News from Around the Americas | September 2005
|Cuban Doctors Say Politics Block Katrina Aid Offer|
Anthony Boadle - Reuters
Havana - Cuban doctors put on stand-by a week ago by President Fidel Castro to fly to the aid of the victims of Hurricane Katrina said on Friday they hoped the United States would put politics aside and accept their help.
|Hundreds of Cuban doctors listen to a speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana. Cuban doctors put on stand-by a week ago by President Fidel Castro to fly to the aid of the victims of Hurricane Katrina said on Friday they hoped the United States would put politics aside and accept their help. So far, the word from Washington has been thanks, but no thanks. The White House snubbed Cuba's offer and said Castro would do better "freeing" his Communist-run country. (Photo: Claudia Daut)|
So far, the word from Washington has been thanks, but no thanks. The White House snubbed Cuba's offer and said Castro would do better "freeing" his Communist-run country.
Meanwhile, the 1,500 doctors are taking English language classes and brushing up on their epidemiological skills.
"We are sad about the position the American government has taken. All of us have been waiting here for eight days," said Dr. Juan Carlos Dupuy, a general practitioner and chemical lab specialist.
"This is a humanitarian problem. We have to put aside politics. We are ready to go," he said.
Castro, calling a truce in Cuba's four-decade-old ideological war with the United States, offered on Sept. 2 to fly the doctors to treat people in the New Orleans disaster.
The Cuban leader said it was no bluff.
He gathered 1,586 physicians at Havana's convention center for a pep talk, each clad in white overalls and equipped with green satchels of medical supplies.
Millions of people were displaced when Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf coast last week, with many of them sick and injured. New Orleans city officials first said they believed the death toll could be as high as 10,000, but a U.S. Homeland Security relief officer said on Friday the number may not be that high.
Some 100 countries -- rich and poor, friend and foe -- ranging from Honduras and Sri Lanka to Germany offered to help U.S. relief efforts.
Venezuela's leftist government, a close Cuban ally with tense ties to Washington, offered at least $1 million to the Red Cross and said it would send an extra one million barrels of gasoline to the U.S. market.
The U.S. State Department said all offers would be considered based on needs rather than political grounds.
But the Bush administration's message to Havana was clear.
"When it comes to Cuba, we have one message for Fidel Castro: He needs to offer the people of Cuba their freedom," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said at a press briefing on Thursday.
Cuba regularly sends medical assistance to other countries hit by natural disasters. Cuban doctors serve in dozens of developing nations.
The contingent on stand-by at an international medical school in Havana includes doctors who worked in Sri Lanka after the tsunami disaster.
"We are waiting for a final decision. We want to help because we saw on television how difficult things are in New Orleans," said Dr. Marcia Consuegra, a cardiologist who served in Ethiopia and currently works in poor hillside slums outside Caracas.
"If they rejects us, it is their loss, because we have no political interest in this," she said. "My English is not good, but my heart is big," she added in broken English.
US Legislators Urge Bush to Accept Cuban Aid Offer
US Hispanic lawmakers have urged President Bush to accept Cuba's offer to provide aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
In a press release issued in Washington, the bloc of democratic legislators voiced concern for the victims of one of the greatest natural catastrophes in US history.
The legislators are hoping for an effective response by the US government, which includes the immediate acceptance of any humanitarian support offered by a number of other nations in addition to Cuba.
The Hispanic legislators highlighted Cuba's immediate offer to send 1,586 doctors and 36 tons of medicine to the US made just one day after the disaster, reported Granma newspaper today.
Nonetheless, the US government has not yet responded to the Cuban government - despite the critical situation of suffered by thousand of victims who require immediate medical assistance.