MIAMI (AP) — The United States said on Tuesday it has provided critical humanitarian aid 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 provisions and supplies that will be provided by independent non-governmental organizations with experience and already working directly on the island with the affected populations, said a senior government official who wished to remain anonymous as per government policy.
“We are responding to a disaster by working with our international humanitarian aid partners to deliver critical aid directly to those most in need,” she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press before the official announcement. “We stand with the Cuban people and will continue to look for ways to improve their political and economic well-being.”
The emergency aid will be delivered 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 the power grid. The hurricane caused power outages in large parts of Cuba, fueling discontent on the Caribbean island, especially in rural areas where power outages are worst.
Cuba was already experiencing a deep energy crisis and economic turmoil before Ian, especially after an August fire destroyed an oil supply 60 miles (97 kilometers) from Havana that was a major source of energy.
The protests sparked by the blackouts are the largest since mass demonstrations in 2021, sparked by similar problems. The detentions of protesters by Cuban authorities have repeatedly led to human rights complaints from international monitors, including the US
Although the two countries have long had a tense relationship, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez expressed gratitude for the Biden administration’s offer immediately after the announcement and confirmed that it had been sent through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescents. Moon Societies will come.
Rodríguez said on his Twitter account that the aid will contribute to recovery efforts and provide support to those affected by Hurricane Ian.
After the storm, US officials spoke to the island’s authorities to find out what their needs were and how they could help, the official said in the interview with AP. However, the aid does not go to the Cuban government, but directly to the population, she said. She said the talks have informed the administration that the greatest needs are in restoring shelter and food.
In some cases, Cuban authorities have accused the United States of providing aid to NGOs covering Cuban dissidents in Florida, which they believe have appropriated the money.
It is not the first time that the US government has provided humanitarian aid to Cuba following natural disasters. It did it in 2008, in the wake of Hurricane Gustav; and from 2004 to 2006, in the wake of Hurricanes Charley, Dennis and Wilma.
The current move is a small step in thawing the frosty relations between the two nations.
For more than six decades, the United States has imposed varying levels of embargo against Cuba. Such restrictions were relaxed during the Obama administration, but returned to full effect under the Trump administration. While President Joe Biden has been pushing to ease a few measures — such as travel and remittances to bring families closer together — he has maintained many Trump-era restrictions, which have significantly affected the Cuban economy. The government also announced it would resume visa services after previously closing the embassy following a series of health incidents.
The entire embargo can only be lifted with Congressional approval, and the official said the aid will be consistent with US laws and regulations.
The official said the US will continue its demands for the release of political prisoners and respect for human rights on the island.
AP reporters Megan Janetsky and Andrea Rodríguez contributed from Havana.
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