Hurricanes Gustav and Ike have devastated Cuba. Gustav packed winds of 140 mph when it hit the island, damaging more than 100,000 homes and wiping out a key sugar and banana-growing region. Ike then damaged tens of thousands of additional homes, putting the cumulative storm damage at $3-billion to $4-billion. Yet the Bush administration is unwilling to let Americans help because of the outdated trade embargo.
The Bush administration is so far refusing to temporarily lift restrictions on remittances and travel to the island — an act that would allow Americans and Cuban-Americans in particular to help their relatives and friends in Cuba. And the State Department's grand gesture of a helping hand was offering Cuba a paltry $100,000 in U.S. aid.
Even that small sum came with strings. Rather than send the money to the Cuban government, as other nations offering aid have done, the administration insisted it be distributed by nongovernmental organizations. The State Department knew Cuba would reject the offer, just as the Bush administration rejected former Cuban President Fidel Castro's offer to send doctors to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This stubborn defense of failed Cold War policies unnecessarily extends human suffering.
The administration limits family remittances to $100 per month to close relations only, and travel to the island to once every three years. These restrictions hurt the Cuban people far more than their government. Now, especially when there is a humanitarian emergency in the offing, there is an overriding reason to put politics aside and rush relief supplies, money and helpers into Cuba. Yet still the administration is refusing to budge beyond granting the Cuban American National Foundation and similar dissident support groups a license to send a modestly increased amount of money to islanders.
The scale of the devastation caused by Gustav and Ike is comparable to having a Katrina-like event affect the entire country. There is no reason why charitable Americans and private relief groups should be prevented from offering a helping hand.