Relief Plane Ready for Flight to Cuba

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 23 Oct 1996
HAVANA (Reuter) - U.S. authorities are waiving a ban on direct flights from the United States to Cuba to allow a Catholic
Church charity to send a planeload of aid to help victims of Hurricane Lili, a Cuban charity said.

Rolando Suarez, director of the Cuban Catholic organization Caritas Cubana, told reporters authorization had been given by
authorities in the United States and the plane would probably fly to the central city of Cienfuegos on Wednesday or Thursday, bringing some 78 tons of food aid.

The plane, which will leave from Miami, was being organized in the United States by the charity Catholic Relief Services. U.S. officials were not immediately available to confirm that the flight ban had been waived.

Suarez said the aid would be the first to arrive following an international appeal Monday by Caritas Cubana for aid for the
victims of the storm, which swept central and western areas of Cuba Thursday and Friday. Cienfuegos was one of the worst hit areas.

Hurricane Lili destroyed more than 5,000 homes and damaged 78,000 others, as well as causing extensive damage to crops, power lines and communications.

The aid plane will be a rare direct flight from the United States since President Bill Clinton banned charter flights to and from
the island after Cuba shot down two small private U.S. planes on Feb. 24. Cuban athletes were allowed to fly directly to and
from Atlanta in July for the Olympic Games.

The Cuban-American community, who mostly reside in Florida, have moblized to send aid to Cuba, but some Cuban
Americans said no aid should be sent to the island.

They argued that such help might not actually reach victims of the storm but would be used in some way by the government of President Fidel Castro.

Suarez also said that Caritas Cubana's own assessment of the situation suggested that the government has not exaggerated the harm done by Hurricane Lili. He said in many cases the hurricane hit the most needy among the population -- people who were living in poor housing that collapsed.

Suarez said Caritas discussed the aid issue this week with the ruling Communist Party's religious affairs office. One request of the party had been that any aid from the United States come without any "political slogans," he said.

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