US offers hurricane aid to Cubans amid power outages

US offers hurricane aid to Cubans amid power outages

MIAMI >> The United States announced on Tuesday that it has offered essential emergency humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, an unusual but not unprecedented move after years of bilateral tensions.

The aid includes $2 million in groceries and supplies that will be delivered through independent non-governmental organizations that have experience and are already working on the island directly with affected populations, a senior official from the agency said. the administration who asked to remain anonymous in accordance with government policies.

“We are responding to a disaster by working with our international humanitarian aid partners to deliver essential aid directly to those who need it most,” she said in a phone interview with The Associated Press before the official announcement. “We stand with the Cuban people and will continue to seek ways to improve their political and economic well-being.”

Emergency aid will be provided through “trusted international partners”, such as the Red Cross, through the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID.

The announcement comes after Ian hit the western part of the island in late September, causing extensive damage to its power grid. The hurricane left large swaths of Cuba with power cuts, fueling discontent on the Caribbean island, especially in rural areas where power cuts are worst.

Cuba was already facing a deep energy crisis and economic turmoil before Ian, especially after a fire in August devastated an oil field 97 kilometers from Havana that was a vital source of energy.

The protests sparked by the power cuts are the largest since mass protests in 2021 sparked by similar issues. Detentions of protesters by Cuban authorities have repeatedly prompted human rights complaints from international observers, including the United States

While the two countries have long had a strained relationship, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez expressed his gratitude for the Biden administration’s offer immediately after the announcement and confirmed that it would go through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Rodríguez said on his Twitter account that the aid will help recovery efforts and support those affected by Hurricane Ian.

After the storm, US officials spoke with authorities on the island to find out what their needs were and how they could help, the official said in an interview with AP. The aid, however, will not go to the Cuban government, but directly to the people, she said. She said that during the conversations, the administration learned that the biggest needs were for shelter restoration and food.

On some occasions, Cuban authorities have accused the United States of approving aid to NGOs that serve as a front for Cuban dissidents in Florida, which they say appropriated the money.

This is not the first time the US government has provided humanitarian aid to Cuba following natural disasters. He did so in 2008, in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav; and from 2004 to 2006, following hurricanes Charley, Dennis and Wilma.

The current decision represents a small step in thawing the frosty relations between the two nations.

For more than six decades, the United States has imposed various levels of embargo on Cuba. Under the Obama administration, these restrictions were relaxed but returned to full effect under the Trump administration. While President Joe Biden has made efforts to ease some of the measures — like travel and remittances to bring families together — he has left many Trump-era restrictions in place, which have significantly affected the economy. Cuban. The administration also announced it would resume visa services after previously closing the embassy following a series of health incidents.

The full embargo can only be lifted with the authorization of the US Congress, and the official said the aid will comply with US laws and regulations.

The official said the United States would pursue its demands for the release of political prisoners and respect for human rights on the island.

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