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High Hopes in Haiti for U.S.-Cuba Cooperation

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The Haitian earthquake that occurred on January 12th has left the poorest nation in our hemisphere in an even worse position. However, the international community has made a remarkable humanitarian effort to contribute to the relief of the Haitian people. Even nations that are typically at odds have joined together to help.

Case in point: Cuba and the United States, 51-year-old-political adversaries, began cooperation soon after the earthquake struck. To start, the Cuban government allowed U.S. medical evacuation flights from the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay to fly over Cuban airspace to Miami. Last week, Darby Holladay, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, commented on the new developments between Cuba and the United States, saying that “This development reflects our overwhelming concern for the welfare of the Haitian people.” Further, he said, “We will continue to identify areas where our cooperation can support the overall relief effort in Haiti.” In following up on that commitment, the U.S. government  has offered medical supplies to the Cuban doctors in Haiti, “but the Cubans have not formally agreed to such assistance, nor have any materials been provided as yet,” said Charles Luoma-Overstreet, spokesman for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department.

While the United States has stated its interest in working with the Cuban doctors already providing relief on the island, this direct cooperation has yet to begin in earnest. Meanwhile, many of the 400 or so Cuban doctors, who were some of the first to respond to the earthquake, are quickly running out of supplies. According to Escambray newspaper from Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, more than 25,000 Haitian earthquake victims have been treated by Cuban doctors. The director of the Pan-American Health Organization, Doctor Mirta Roses, has applauded Cuban efforts and stated that the PAHO will continue to provide the Cuban medical brigade with needed supplies such as surgery materials, sanitary transportation to hospitals and prosthesis. The Havana Times has reported that the Norwegian Embassy in Cuba has committed to give US $885,000 to the Cuban government in order to provide medical supplies to the Cuban brigade in Port-au-Prince.

Although many in Haiti and Latin America are glad to see the U.S. lending a helping hand, some are rightly raising concerns about the long-term effects of a U.S. military presence in Haiti. Last Sunday in an opinion article, former President Fidel Castro joined other Latin American leaders in decrying the U.S. military presence in Haiti. In his piece, titled “We send doctors and not soldiers,”  Fidel recalls the tragic legacy of U.S. military intervention in Cuba and other Latin American countries, something that’s important for all countries to keep in mind, and closely monitor, as the relief and rebuilding effort in Haiti continues.

These recent events have shown the world that cooperation between the United States and Cuba is possible when the lives of our neighbors are at stake. What began as a positive start for collaboration has fallen victim to the whispers of old politics. As humanitarian actions are re-analyzed to uncover ulterior motives, Cuban doctors and other medical professionals in Port-au-Prince are in dire need of supplies. Consequently, the Haitian people who have involuntarily brought these historical “enemies” together could suffer from their battling politics. Where have we seen this before? Riding along the humanitarian wave, we need to remember the PEOPLE who are affected everyday as a result of inhumane U.S. policy towards Cuba. Due to the trade embargo, any U.S. medical supplies that were in Haiti could not be used by Cuban doctors. When it comes down to saving lives and protecting families, how far can our policy go? The Haitian earthquake should not be seen as an “attempt to springboard bilateral relations” between the United States and Cuba, but rather as a reminder and an example that in the end, cooperation is feasible. Pride needs to be put aside while human well-being is moved to the top of the list. It’s logical and necessary if we ever want to move forward.   

EDITOR’s UPDATE:  In an Associated Press article from Thursday, January 28, we learned that, in a statement about up-coming immigration talks between the two nations, Cuba’s foreign minister, Brune Rodriguez, reiterated that Cuba has coordinated with the United States on transporting aid to Haiti, “with 60 U.S. flights using airspace in eastern Cuba to reach the quake-devastated country since Havana temporarily opened it to American planes.”  He also said, according to AP, “There have been some exchanges between the Foreign Relations Ministry of Cuba and the State Department on an eventual cooperation in Haiti.”