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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Political hurricanes 

Cuba is getting hammered by hurricane Ike. This couldn’t be worse. The damn thing hit Santiago de Cuba (major city in the South East) and then travelled all along the length of the island to only come out just to the west of Havana.

A quick lesson on hurricanes: When eye is to the west of you….you’re in trouble. When it is to the east of you, it’s not that bad. Havana is in trouble. 2 million evacuated, the power is off, as is the gas and the running water. But at least they’re prepared.

And that’s the thing about hurricanes in Cuba, they are often incredibly prepared. Cuba has somehow defied Mother Nature, and typically the storms are not deadly events. The problem is the clean up afterwards. That takes time, resources and money to get it done, and there we have problems.

The U.S. has offered aid to Cuba during this terrible hurricane season. Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs expresses "his profoundest concern at the destruction caused by Hurricane Gustav," and affirms that the United States is prepared to offer immediate and initial "humanitarian aid" to the people of Cuba in aid supplies via an appropriate international aid organization."

Sounds pretty fair. But that suggestion of humanitarian aid is where the Cubans say “no thanks.” They have seen what humanitarian aid looks like from the United States in other countries, and time and time again it is an open door to get military personnel on the ground in a post-disaster region and to flood the local economy with U.S. foodstuffs that undermine local growing capacity.

Shannon also asked the Cuban government to allow a humanitarian assessment group to visit the island to inspect the affected areas and make a suitable evaluation of the damage.

Ooops. This is a bit of an insult to the Cubans, who again are experts at surviving and recovering from hurricanes. The official response from Havana went something like this:
“Cuba does not need the assistance of a humanitarian assessment group to evaluate the damage and needs, because it has sufficient specialists who have virtually completed that task.
Moreover, the Foreign Ministry note says that if the U.S. government really has the will to cooperate with the Cuban people in the face of the tragedy of the hurricane, it would ask it to allow the sale of essential materials to Cuba, and to suspend the restrictions that are preventing U.S. companies from offering private commercial credits to our country in order to purchase foodstuffs in the United States.”

Good capitalists those Cubans are wanting to buy food and medicine at fair prices and even asking for credit to do so. Who wouldn’t win in that situation? The Cubans purchase U.S. goods, some U.S. businesses do well, more material resources get to Cuba, and there are no mucky politics about the politics of humanitarian intervention.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is less about doing good business and more about hegemony these days. And even though Senator Obama asked for a suspension – for no less than 90 days – of the restrictions on travel and the sending of remittances and aid to their families by Cubans resident in the United States, the last vestiges of the Bush administration remain deaf.

Obama’s fighting gravity on this one, just as he is on most issues. The popular phrase after the U.S. – Mexico war in the 19th century was, “we take nothing by conquest…thank God.” Today, it’s the only way American interests do business.

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