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. Desperate Cuba charges US is 'lying' on storm aid

Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Havana (AFP) Sept 11, 2008
Reeling from almost nationwide destruction from hurricanes Gustav and Ike, cash-strapped Cuba Thursday charged the United States was "lying" about its stated willingness to help the communist country.

The neighbors do not have full diplomatic relations, and the United States has had a full economic embargo on Cuba since 1962.

Facing rebuilding from two hurricanes in under 10 days that destroyed thousands of homes and crops across the country, Cuba has received aid offers from a number of governments including Venezuela, Spain and Brazil.

The United States offered to send a team of experts to assess Cuba's needs, and pledged 100,000 dollars to be distributed through non-governmental organizations working on the island.

But Cuba argues that it has its own assessment teams and that the United States is saying it wants to help while doing nothing to ease Cubans' suffering.

Cuba last week urged Washington to ease its trade embargo to allow US firms to open private lines of credit for food imports to the island of 11 million roughly the size of Portugal.

But US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was not ready to lift the decades-old embargo. And the United States showed no sign of political flexibility as Cuba faced the crisis.

"The United States government is behaving cynically," the foreign ministry said in a statement carried in state media.

"It is trying to suggest it is just desperate to cooperate with Cuba and that we are refusing. It is lying shamelessly," it said.

"Cuba has not asked the US government to give it anything for free. It has asked simply that it be allowed to purchase" food and emergency supplies the note added.

"Why is (the US government) stopping US businesses and their subsidiaries in other countries from offering Cuba private credit to buy food to guarantee the people effected are fed, and that the country's reserves are resupplied to prepare for another hurrricane," the ministry demanded.

Even before the hurricanes hit, Cuba faced major challenges keeping its people fed. Since 2002, the World Food Program has assisted more than 593,000 people per year mainly in Cuba's east, WFP data say.

US officials say there have been no significant political changes in Cuba since Washington's longtime and increasingly frail nemesis, Fidel Castro, 82, stepped down as president in February and handed power to his younger brother Raul, 77.

But in bilateral commercial ties, things have changed in the past decade.

While maintaining its sanctions officially, US President George W. Bush's administration has become a leading supplier of food to Cuba due to an embargo loophole opened after the Caribbean nation was hit by another hurricane, Michelle, in 2001.

At the time, the United States offered aid and Cuba turned it down, suggesting instead that it be allowed to purchase food and medicine. The Bush administration agreed on condition the purchases were in cash, opening the way to a surge in US-to-Cuba food trade.

Tuesday, Hurricane Ike lashed the country's northwest and its crumbling capital Havana, tearing off roofs, washing out food crops, and leaving five dead.

Just over a week ago, Gustav charged into the Caribbean island's westernmost province and destroyed or severely damaged 140,000 homes and buildings before heading to the US Gulf of Mexico coastline.

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Hopes fade for 'several hundred' missing in China landslide
Xiangfen, China (AFP) Sept 11, 2008
Several hundred people believed missing after a landslide engulfed a Chinese town are likely dead, state press said Thursday, citing a senior official, as the official toll rose to 151.

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