New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin recently traveled to Cuba in order todiscuss hurricane preparedness with the country’s leading experts. Inthe aftermath of the Mayor’s trip, the need to reinstate a workingrelationship between the United States and Cuba could not be moreapparent. Considering Cuba’s remarkable hurricane response system andproximity to New Orleans, it is logical to collaborate (or at leasecommunicate) about natural disasters. But the trade embargo and travelrestrictions against Cuba make co-operation rather difficult.
Forget about “Hurricane Fidel ,” as the worst disaster in Cuba’s history. It’s the 47-year-old trade embargo that is preventing real cooperation, negotiation and partnership between the two nations, specifically in regards to hurricane preparedness.
Interesting fact: New Orleans is closer to Havana than to Washington, DC. As a result of geographical closeness, weather patterns that cross over the island of Cuba usually affect the Gulf Coast as well. During Hurricane Katrina the Cuban government expressed their support and condolences to the affected states and within 24 hours organized some 1,586 medical doctors from all over the island to lend aid. As was expected, Washington ignored the offer. The attempt of the Cuban government to lend aid despite political differences was powerful. As the final death toll due to Hurricane Katrina was calculated to be 1,836, one can’t help but think that the Cuban brigade could have brought much-desired relief to hurricane victims. In Cuba, during Hurricanes Ike and Gustav nearly 3 million Cubans were evacuated and only seven people died.
How is it that Cuba, a country with significantly fewer resources than the United States, can successfully evacuate millions of people with a death toll of only seven? In comparison to the United States this number of casualties is miraculous. What are we missing? Well, one crucial element in the Cuban relief system is the continued availability of medical care and other social services in schools and hospitals during disaster situations. In the United States these services are usually suspended during natural disasters, but in Cuba they stay open for the public. Another element is that the Cuban government guarantees the reimbursement of personal property in order to encourage evacuation. FEMA, take note!
For more information on the Cuba Disaster Relief Model see CIP’s Disaster Relief Management in Cuba Report
Even though most U.S. officials would never see Cuba as a model for anything concerning our democracy, let alone a model for U.S. policy, Cuba provided for its citizens during deadly hurricanes when the United States appeared to be dragging its heels and pointing fingers of blame.
Hurricane preparedness should be a logical, incremental step towards re-establishing normalized relations between our two nations. During Hurricane Katrina, the world saw the U.S. government ignore its citizens in their hour of need. The potential to cultivate cooperation with Cuba is an opportunity that the United States should seize—out of our own national interest. Our current U.S. administration was elected because of a campaign for change; now is the time to put the old politics aside. Let’s see some action.
LAWG will be attending a conference on U.S.-Cuba hurricane cooperation this month in New Orleans. Click HERE for more information.