US Gives Green Light To Food Sales To Hurricane-Hit Cuba
Havana (AFP) Sep 17, 2008
Bypassing its trade embargo on communist Cuba, the United States on Tuesday announced approving 250 million dollars in "farm sales" to Havana after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike devastated Cuba's crops.
The licenses for agricultural sales, which include food and construction materials, were approved after Ike lashed Cuba a week ago and "wood, a material essential to rebuilding, is included," read a State Department communique delivered to reporters at the US Interests Section in Havana.
State Department officials in Washington on Monday it regretted that Cuba rejected up to five million dollars in aid for the victims of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The United States has tense and limited relations with its communist neighbor, which has been under a US embargo for more than four decades.
After being hit hard by two hurricanes in less than two weeks, desperate 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 cash-strapped island of more than 11 million people.
The bilateral breakthrough "is more or less what they (the Cubans) are asking for, not credit because our law does not permit it. That will have to be through third parties. The license includes food and wood," a US diplomat in Havana told AFP privately.
A Spanish aircraft meanwhile was due in Cuba on Tuesday with 17 tonnes of aid from the World Food Program and another four tonnes from Spain to help those affected by the hurricanes. Other countries, including Brazil, Russia and Ecuador, have also sent humanitarian assistance.
Spain also has promised 300,000 euros for rebuilding social infrastructure, 200,000 euros for the Red Cross and another 18,000 via the Pan American Health Organization for the repair of medical centers, according to an official statement.
Cuba on Friday said it did not have the resources to recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, including seven dead, 320,000 homes destroyed and extensive damage to crops.
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.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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