Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Help for Cuba? Laws set limits

Residents in Herradura, Cuba, line up to receive food Wednesday after Hurricane Ike passed through the area.

Associated Press

Residents in Herradura, Cuba, line up to receive food Wednesday after Hurricane Ike passed through the area.

MIAMI — For a week Cuban immigrant Naysbeli Hewett has watched and prayed as two hurricanes slashed across her homeland. Seeing TV pictures of the destruction left in the wake of Gustav and Ike and knowing that her relatives still live there has reduced her to tears.

Her anguish was compounded by confusion over what she can legally do to help her family. Due to U.S. government restrictions on visiting and sending money to the island, she can only send $300 every quarter.

"It's very hard, you feel so impotent," said Hewett, 32, who left Cuba six years ago. "I'm Cuban. I spent my whole youth there. I have my parents, my sister, my cousins and my friends all there."

The total damage from Ike and Gustav is estimated at $3-billion to $4-billion. Gustav alone damaged more than 100,000 homes. Cuba's sugar and banana plantations were flattened and flooded, raising fears of food shortages. The entire electricity grid in the western province of Pinar del Rio was knocked out.

The scale of the disaster has renewed debate in South Florida over the decades-old U.S. embargo. Some Cuban-American organizations, the Roman Catholic Church, and a handful of local politicians, as well as Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, have called on the Bush administration to lift travel and cash limits for 90 days.

The State Department has so far offered $100,000 in emergency assistance to nongovernment organizations in Cuba. The Bush administration said it would not join other countries in sending large government donations unless Cuba first agreed to allow American disaster evaluation teams into the country. The Cuban government declined, saying it needs no help assessing the damage.

But critics say the United States is applying a double-standard to Cuba. Haiti, where the death toll from four storms has exceeded 300, is receiving upward of $7-million in U.S. aid.

"Haitians can send as much as they want to Haiti. I wish we had that privilege," said Ileana Casanova, 58, a public school teacher worried about two elderly aunts and an uncle in Havana.

But current law allows Cuban-American families to visit or send money only to immediate family in Cuba: spouses, siblings and children. "My aunts and uncles are no longer my relatives, according to the Bush administration," she said.

Other Cuban-Americans insist the restrictions must remain.

''There are 11-million people under the same conditions,'' said Ninoska Perez Castellon, a radio show host and director of the conservative Cuban Liberty Council. "What we should be looking for are ways to benefit the 11-million people and solve the crisis and not think of what we can do for our own relatives.''

After a week of political wrangling among Cuban exiles in Miami over sending aid to Cuba, a glimmer of hope emerged Wednesday. One Cuban exile group announced plans to send humanitarian assistance to Cuba under a U.S. government license to support political dissidents.

The Cuban American National Foundation said it has received approval from the Treasury Department to extend its program to all Cubans, except members of the government.

The license allows up to $250,000 in aid to hurricane victims, said CANF spokesperson, Sandy Acosta Cox. "We are limiting each family to $1,000 per household," she said.

The potential number of Cuban families able to send money by this means could be multiplied if other groups in Miami follow suit. CANF is only one of several groups with federal licenses to support civil society groups and dissidents in Cuba, as well providing humanitarian assistance.

But it remains unclear how that aid would reach families, or whether the Cuban government would allow overtly anti-Castro political groups to channel hurricane disaster relief.

"This is a time of immense need and distress. Let's do away with the politics," said Silvia Wilhelm with the Cuban-American Commission for Family Rights, which opposes restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. "People just want to be allowed to help their families."

Hewett says she is so confused she doesn't know what to do. She went through some closets in her children's bedroom to collect clothes to send to Cuba.

"But I don't want to send it somewhere and then find out that Cuba won't accept it."

Nor has she been able to talk to her parents yet. They don't have a telephone, but she got word from neighbors that their home in Havana is intact.

Information from the Miami Herald was used in this report. Contact David Adams at dadams@sptimes.com.

Help for Cuba? Laws set limits 09/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 1:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility

    World

    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia

    World

    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber

    World

    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant

    Nation

    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]