Hurricane Gustav tore through the Gulf of Mexico earlier in the month and took a particularly devastating toll on Cuba. The storm leveled houses and flooded streets throughout the western provinces of Pinar del Rio and the Isla de Juventud leaving in its path an estimated 500,000 residents without shelter or access to food or water.
No one was killed by Gustav because of Cuba's effective evacuation plan. Compounding this damage, Hurricane Ike battered Cuba for several days this week, leaving severe damage, including at least 64 partially or fully collapsed buildings in the capital city and in Old Havana due to tropical storm force winds and torrential rains. Four deaths were reported due to Ike. Reports of the extent of the impact continue to come in.
We have joined with several other Cuba policy organizations in offering a list of organizations that are providing relief assistance to the victims of these hurricanes and which are accepting hurricane relief donations.
In addition to this, and perhaps even more importantly, we call on you to advocate persistently and loudly for an end to restrictions that prevent Americans from directly coming to the aid of our Cuban sisters and brothers. We have a three-point request:
*Call your member of Congress and senators (Capitol Switchboard 202-224-3121; this is the most effective way to be heard by your members of Congress) or use this web form to send an email to Congress: Click here . The message to Congress is "Call on the White House to immediately end Treasury (OFAC) and Commerce Department restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba so that all Americans and IRS-recognized not-for-profit organizations can aid Cubans directly and without impediments". Send the same message to the White House: Comment Line: 202-456-1111; Switchboard: 202-456-1414; Fax: 202-456-2461.
*Donate to humanitarian organizations with a track record and Commerce Department licenses to provide emergency aid and support to Cubans as they face dire conditions in the aftermath of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
*Stay tuned (check back on our website, and look for an updated e-mail message) for potential information from the Cuban government about their specific needs and any requests for assistance. It is possible that Cuba may ask only for our advocacy in ending restrictions on trade and travel.
In addition, we urge you to sign an on-line petition that will be delivered to the White House and to Congress calling for a suspension of travel and remittance restrictions here.
There have already been a number of strong messages to President Bush to end or suspend these onerous restrictions: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Berman, Senator Obama, Representative Serrano, Representative Flake and others.