Friday, September 5, 2008

S. Florida Launches Effort To Aid Islanders

Humanitarian aid groups are preparing to ship help to the victims of Hurricane Gustav in the Caribbean.

Several South Florida organizations mobilized Thursday to ship money and supplies to the victims of Hurricane Gustav in Cuba, Haiti, and other Caribbean points.

Deepening local concern about the death and destruction wreaked by storms in both countries underscored once again the profound links that exist in South Florida between expatriates and their homelands -- and the complicated politics that even humanitarian aid can ignite.

Jewish Solidarity and Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul urged people to make contributions and said they have plans to ship supplies to Cuba as soon as feasible.

Catholic Charities announced plans to provide financial aid to hurricane victims on several Caribbean islands.

Coconut Creek-based Food for the Poor sent 60,000 hygiene kits to Haiti and Jamaica by cargo ship on Wednesday, and mobilized workers in Haiti to send out supplies from stocked Port-au-Prince warehouses to hard-hit areas desperate for food and water.

The port city of Gonaives ''almost looks like a post-Apocalyptic situation, with dead animals on the ground,'' said Food for the Poor executive director Angel Aloma. ``The people there, even their voices sound broken.''

The organization, which sends supplies to its Caribbean warehouses ahead of hurricane season, dispatched water and food to Gonaives via helicopter on Wednesday. The hygiene kits are to arrive Friday in Jamaica and Haiti.


Efforts to aid the Cuban victims, however, were engulfed in controversy as Cuban exile community leaders split on how to help.

Two Cuban-American Democrats running for Congress, Raul Martinez and Joe Garcia, as well as Democracy Movement head Ramón Saúl Sánchez, urged President Bush to temporarily lift restrictions that limit exiles to visiting Cuba once a year and sending up to $300 every three months to close relatives. Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, endorsed the appeals for lifting restrictions but reaffirmed his support for the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

The four Florida Republican Cuban-Americans in Congress -- Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Mel Martinez -- opposed lifting the restrictions and said in a joint statement that the U.S. government should instead directly help hurricane victims. The Republican Cuban-Americans were joined in the statement by several Democrats, including Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.


The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, confirmed Thursday that it had offered humanitarian assistance to Cubans affected by Gustav, but said the Cuban government has not responded yet.

''We also offered to send an assessment team to determine the level of humanitarian needs,'' said State Department spokeswoman Heide Bronke.

Because of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, the U.S. government generally channels humanitarian aid through humanitarian organizations.

Two of those, Jewish Solidarity and Daughters of Charity, both in Miami, were preparing to ship aid. Eddie Levy, chairman of Jewish Solidarity, said he had asked the Treasury Department for authorization to send up to $200,000 to Cuba. He said it would be channeled through the Havana organization Patronato Hebreo Cubano or the Cuban Hebrew Trust.

Source:Miami Herald

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