Cuba rejects hurricane aid from America

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 04 Nov 1996
By Frances Kerry

HAVANA, Nov 2 (Reuter) - Cuba said on Saturday it was not accepting part of a planeload of food aid for victims of Hurricane Lili sent by Cuban-Americans because packages had been adorned with political, ''counter-revolutionary'' slogans.

The government said in a statement published in the ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma that it had decided to accept ''all the cargo that does not have political inscriptions and suggestive, provocative and counter-revolutionary messages.'' This amounted to about three quarters of the aid.

But it said seven tons of the cargo would be given back to Caritas, the Cuban church charity carrying the aid. The cargo was donated by mostly Cuban-American citizens in the United States and sent through the U.S. church charity Catholic Relief Services and the Roman Catholic diocese in Miami.

The aid, consisting of a total of some 30 tons of rice, milk and beans, arrived in Havana on a charter flight from Miami a week ago, but so far had not been moved to affected areas of the country for distribution.

Caritas Cubana director Rolando Suarez said it was true that before the cargo arrived it had been agreed with the government the food aid should bear no identifying markings other than the words ''Caritas'' or ''CRS.''

Referring to the part of the cargo rejected by authorities, Suarez told Reuters Caritas was looking into how the organisation could remove the offending lettering and still distribute this part of the aid at a later date.

Granma said that some 23 tons of rice, beans and canned milk would now be distributed, while the remaining seven tons would be handed back. It added that Cuba would never accept ''an assault on its dignity,'' however adverse its circumstances.

Father Thomas Wenski, an official of the Miami diocese who accompanied the cargo to Cuba, said earlier this week delays in sending the food to the provinces appeared due partly to slogans written on the cargo and also because the milk component of the cargo came in many varieties, such as canned milk, powdered milk and so on, and had to be classified by authorities.

Cuban authorities had made clear before the aid was sent that they would not accept political slogans on packages.

According to Wenski, some packages were adorned with messages such as ''exile'' and ''love can do everything.'' Wenski reiterated on Saturday that the donors had not meant any harm by putting such lettering on the packages.

''Exile'' is a word that Cuban authorities do not use about the more than 1 million Cubans living abroad because the term is viewed as having a political connotation. ''Love can do all'' was the title of a pastoral message issued by Cuba's Catholic bishops three years ago that called for political reform on the island.

Authorities have said Hurricane Lili, which swept central and western areas of Cuba on Oct. 17-18, destroyed some 5,000 homes and damaged crops, power lines and communications.

The Cuban-American community in Florida mobilised rapidly to send aid, although some hardline critics of President Fidel Castro argued against sending anything, saying assistance would just serve to prop up the government.

The U.S. government 10 days ago waived a ban on direct flights to the communist-ruled island in order to allow the relief flight to take place.

Copyright (c) 1996 Reuters

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