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Julie Webb-Pullman: Yikes


by Julie Webb-Pullman

Ike has sliced through Cuba like the Grim Reaper's scythe, savaging crops desperately-needed to feed the scores of thousands left homeless and hungry by his siblings Gustav and Hanna. This terrible trio, two category fours and a tropical storm all within eight days, are unprecedented in recorded hurricane history, and are continuing to devastate the entire country.

If the magnitude of the damage wrought by Gustav in the western provinces of Cuba drew comparisons with a nuclear strike, and of Ike in neighbouring islands with "the twilight zone", imagine the destruction awaiting the Cuban people as they emerge from their shelters in the coming days, where waves as tall as five-story buildings have smashed through coastal towns destroying most in their path, where 160km winds have stripped every leaf off every branch, uprooted every plant from the sodden earth, ripped roofs from more houses than are left standing, where the only thing in the landscape vaguely resembling food is the spaghetti of tangled power lines.

And there's more to come – Ike is about to head back into town and Josephine's banging on the back door, with who knows how many more hangers on......

Imagine the coming weeks, trying to return to work in a flooded nickel mine, a saturated sugar plantation, a deserted tourist resort, a flattened farm. Imagine the coming months, no fresh fruit or vegetables until maybe next year. Which will come first, the chicken or the egg? Imagine the coming years, rebuilding lives, homes, communities, food sources, infrastructure....

Post-tsunami countries know what this feels like, it's a tough job and a long haul, even when they can freely access the necessary raw materials to reconstruct their broken lives. They know and value the kindness, sympathy, compassion and sheer generosity of spirit that inspired so many around the world - family, friends and strangers alike - to give such human and humanitarian assistance when they were in such dire need.

How sad – and how telling – has been the response of United States officials to the devastation of Cuba. Whilst Argentina, Brazil, China, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Timor Leste, and Venezuela have already offered, and even delivered, aid following Gustav and Hanna and before Ike even struck, both sides of US Congress are still grandstanding and electioneering at the expense of any moral sensibility, let alone plain human empathy.

"Make available a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to travel to Cuba to assess the damage and determine the appropriate aid" demanded Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the Republican incumbent. These are the guys who did so well with Katrina in their own country, they want to tell the Cubans how to do it!! Mr Diaz-Balart (and all Cubans) would do better to heed the opinion of the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland that Cuba has one of the best natural disaster preparedness systems in the world, and the fact that Cuba consistently records much lower death rates from the same hurricanes than do other countries, including the US, of which Katrina is but one example. Latin America's had too many DARTs (Dirty American Regime-change Tricks) for Cuba to fall for that one, Mr Diaz-Balart.

By contrast, Diaz-Balart's Democratic challenger, Raul Martinez, confined himself to Barack's, urging "a temporary lift of remittance and travel restrictions."

Any doubts that foreign policy is, well....completely foreign to him Obama finally laid to rest, coming out like a Condy-clone to express his "deepest sympathies for those affected by Hurricane Gustav, particularly the untold number affected in Cuba, who face the daunting task of reconstructing their lives with the weight of the failed Castro regime on their shoulders."

Ms Rice was similarly adamant that despite the hurricanes it was not possible to lift the US economic blockade of Cuba (condemned in the United Nations for the sixteenth consecutive time in November 2007 by a 184-4 majority, in circumstances more bearable than those now prevailing) "under current conditions, with Raul Castro in charge after replacing his brother, Fidel."

Oh, right, those dreadful Castro brothers under whose leadership Cubans have not only created one of the best natural disaster preparedness systems in the world but also managed to feed, educate, house and provide health care for all of their citizens – unlike almost any other country in the world, including the US, Australia and New Zealand. What bastards those Castros and their commie mates are!! How dare they show up rampant capitalism for what it is - let them eat...roofing iron!

Condy had to speak for Dubya because both feet are still in his mouth from Katrina then Posada Carriles, so on Sunday we got the quote: "President Bush consistently has said the U.S. would be responsive "to a Cuban regime that is prepared to release political prisoners (and) has a process to get to free and fair elections." Political prisoners like Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, René González, and Fernando González, otherwise known as the Cuban Five, perhaps? Free and fair elections like those in the United States in 2000 and 2004? I guess if you're gonna die, Die bold!

The State Department is encouraging US humanitarian agencies to send their money in to Cuba through "reputable, licensed NGOs with a history of direct assistance to the Cuban people" such as those funded by USAID. One such group is Miami-based Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia (Support Group for Democracy), who according to a memo sent by USAID official Stephen Driesler to various members of Congress in July, embezzled $500,000 for their personal use. This was not an isolated case, and Congress put $45 million of humanitarian aid to Cuba on hold in the wake of two cases within six months. Very reassuring that needy Cubans, not greedy Cubans, are getting the funds....

Then comes the call to let in the International Double Cross – sorry, Red Cross - who can forget the role played by them in the Colombia hostage rescue?

But to show they are not entirely insensitive, the US State Department did make a very big-hearted gesture – an offer of $100,000.00. I'm sure the Cubans will be overwhelmed at such selfless generosity. That's 11 cents for each of the 900,000 evacuees to tide them over until the next harvest in three or four months (if they can find any seeds to plant), or $100 towards the cost of rebuilding each of the thousand houses destroyed in Baracoa, or $4 towards each of the 25,000 roofs blown off in the Isle of Youth....decisions, decisions!!

Hopefully, not all Americans are as dim-witted as their political representatives, whose obsession with winning elections by pandering to right-wing Florida terrorists is surpassed only by their total incapacity to create any distinction between the two main political parties whilst decrying one-party states.....and simultaneously claiming the higher moral ground, usually with a religious spin, while subjecting eleven million people on their doorstep to inhumane suffering and hardship just to get back at a couple of brothers some of them don't like. Now that really shows all those Christian values like loving and caring and being charitable, not to mention inspired collateral damage - a whole nation at once! That'll show those Europeans and Asians how its done.

There are some genuine US Christian voices in the wilderness, such as the drafters of petitions such as this one, urging Bush and Rice not to violate religious freedom by hindering the provision of aid to vulnerable Cubans through the Cuban Council of Churches by U.S. churches, ecumenical agencies and humanitarian organizations.

And there are many US citizens who are people of goodwill, good sense, and compassion. Maybe, just maybe, the example of countries such as Argentina, Brazil, China, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Timor Leste, Venezuela, and more particularly our own, will be enough to spur (or shame) the US Congress towards responsible and compassionate international citizenship, and the most humanitarian gesture they could make – the lifting of the economic blockade against Cuba demanded by 184 of 188 countries in the world. Wouldn't that be a potent example of democracy in action! And it would enable millions of individuals, and scores of countries, to make a much more significant humanitarian contribution to help Cubans get back on their own feet.

The US administration disgraced their citizens and their international reputation with their tardy response to the tsunami, they disgraced them again with their even tardier response to Katrina. Final notice - three Ikes and they're out.



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