- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For observers of the diplomatic chess match being played between Havana and Washington over humanitarian relief to the victims of hurricanes Gustav and Ike in Cuba, it is easy to overlook the positive steps taken by the U.S. government following its initial timid offer of $100,000 in assistance.

Despite at least five rejections by the Cuban government of U.S. offers of assistance, the administration has moved quickly to get assistance to the victims of the hurricane damage in Cuba.

These measures include: expediting licenses for nonprofit organizations wishing to send assistance to Cuba, delivering approximately $1.7 million in aid through nongovernmental organizations working in Cuba, and authorizing the sale of $250 million in agricultural goods to Cuba, including lumber.

The latest U.S. offer includes $6.3 million worth of construction materials to help Cuba rebuild. Though these offers fall short of the immense estimated need for the Cuban people (projected to be between $4 billion and $5 billion), they represent positive steps that deserve praise.

U.S. officials have proved their willingness to work with Cuban officials (even sit down with them) to make the legitimate U.S. offer of assistance more palpable for a regime with an already bruised ego.

This tragedy has presented the U.S. government with a unique opportunity to demonstrate the generosity of America. U.S. officials’ willingness to take these positive steps is evidence that some in our government understand the importance of this opportunity.

Recognizing the Cuban government’s stubborn unwillingness to accept U.S. assistance, these officials would do well to press on the administration the value of family-to-family assistance in circumstances such as this and advocate to suspend restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban-Americans.

The U.S. government’s willingness to take these steps stands in contrast to a cruel regime that rejects the assistance its people so desperately need and prefers to play politics rather than ensure the well-being of its citizens.

TOMAS BILBAO

Executive director

Cuba Study Group

Washington

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