When a cyclone devastated Burma this spring, that country's famously secretive military junta refused to allow Western aid groups to enter the country to provide humanitarian relief, dooming hundreds of thousands of Burmese to weeks of suffering in the name of national security and sovereignty. Tragically, a similar scenario is now playing out in Cuba in the aftermath of hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
The storms, the worst to hit in 50 years, hammered wide areas of the island nation. Crops were flooded, power lines downed and water systems disrupted. Tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed and people forced to flee their communities for safety. The International Red Cross says early estimates of the total damage are between $3 billion and $4 billion in a country where the average income is $20 a month.
The United States has twice offered to send a disaster assessment team to Cuba for a more detailed evaluation of the damage and to see what aid this country can provide. The government there has refused both offers, however. Like the generals in Rangoon, Havana's military overlords want to control the situation, even at a cost of wide scale suffering.
The political differences between the United States and Cuba are well known and very clear. Following a disaster of such magnitude, however, they shouldn't be allowed to stand in the way of aiding the Cuban people.
Despite Havana's stand, the U.S. is committed to helping the Cuban people. The Agency for International Development has approved $100,000 in emergency funds for relief operations carried out by non-governmental organizations working in affected areas.
The U.S. is also encouraging American citizens and groups who want to help hurricane victims in Cuba to make cash donations to reputable assistance organizations licensed to send humanitarian aid to the island.
The U.S. will also continue to work with other countries in the region to see what more can be done to help the Cuban people. Humanitarian relief should never be denied for ideological reasons.