<!-- IMAGE -->
The massive international relief effort in Haiti has received a boost from Cuba, which has more than 400 health workers, many of them doctors, working throughout the devastated country. The government in Havana has also aided United States relief efforts by opening restricted Cuban airspace to American planes flying medical evacuation missions.
Shortly after the horrific earthquake struck Haiti January 12, causing untold destruction and killing tens of thousands of people, the U.S. reached agreement with Havana for evacuation flights from the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay to pass through Cuba on their way to Florida.
An understanding had been in place allowing individual emergency flights to travel through the area, but the new agreement expands that authority to a standing basis. Now planes that are carrying badly injured people for medical treatment in the U.S. won't have to be pre-cleared by Cuban authorities.
With Cuba situated on a direct line between Haiti and Florida, about 200 miles northeast of Port au Prince, the agreement cuts the flight time to Miami by 90 minutes. That could be vital in life-or-death medical emergencies. It also allows the U.S. to set up a medical airlift, or airborne convoys, to ferry the injured to hospitals on the mainland to relieve the badly overburdened medical facilities in Haiti.
President Barack Obama has pledged $100 million in aid to the ruined island nation, part of one of the largest international relief efforts in history. The bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba reflects our overwhelming concern for the welfare of the Haitian people. We will continue to look for areas where cooperation between our 2 nations can support Haitian relief.