Friday, September 19, 2008

After the Hurricane (Part 1)

How tragic that at this particular time when the victims of hurricane Ike and Gustav need help in Cuba, both the US and Cuban government have entrenched themselves in their usual political stances.

It seems that earlier this week the Cuban government rejected a commitment of $5 million of US aid, which came with no conditions according to US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. The Cuban government, which had earlier protested certain conditions on aid, was quick to respond saying that it cannot accept aid from a country that has economic sanctions against it. The Cuban government has now proposed that the US embargo be lifted for six months.

Why six months?

According to the Cuban Agriculture Ministry, Cuba now faces a six-month food crisis. With approximately 30% of the island's crops destroyed, egg and dairy production interrupted, the Agriculture Vice Minister Alcides Lopez told reporters: "We have six hard months to go... [but] no Cuban will die of hunger."

But, in order to increase food production Cuba's Foreign Minster Felipe Perez Roque believes lifting the US embargo is required. According to the AP (Andrea Rodriguez):

"The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed during 50 years by the United States is the main obstacle to Cuba's development," Perez Roque said, complaining of an "irrational persecution against North American companies, banks and citizens and those of third countries" who do business with Cuba.

But, does this position by the Cuban government justify the rejection of US aid? Especially, a commitment of $5 million? Phil Peters of the Lexington Insititute believes the US presented a "good offer." I think it was good too, but I also think that lifting the US embargo for six months is a good idea too. The real obstacle here seems to be two close neighbors (and long-time adversaries) that are not willing to negotiate a deal for an immediate and dire problem.

How the people respond to this will also be important to watch. Circles Robinson, on his blog, recently brought this to attention:

"The fact that the country’s socialist revolution has survived a half-century of relentless hostility from Washington and out lived the collapse of the USSR and Socialist Europe reinforces their belief that they will overcome the major setback to the economy poised by Gustav and Ike. "On the other hand, as the Revolution turns '50' on January 1, the battle horses of past struggles are aging and time will tell whether the new generations are willing to accept the calls to hard work and sacrifice."

[Photo by AP]