Cuba has turned down offers from the United States of assistance to rebuild their country in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, in a sign that the relationship between the Cold War foes remains frustratingly frosty.
Several US-based charities have said the Cuban government is refusing to let them fly in aid, while the US government’s international development department, USAID, told The Sunday Telegraph that they have not sent any relief to Cuba – despite sending millions of dollars in assistance to other affected countries.
Fidel Castro, now 90, set the tone, stating after President Barack Obama’s historic March visit: “We don’t need the empire to give us anything.”
And his government seems determined to prove him right.
“We have not received a request from the government of Cuba for assistance,” said a spokesman for USAID. By contrast, the US has been highly active in Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas, and contributed significant funds since the October 4 hurricane – the most ferocious storm in almost a decade.
Hurricane Matthew devastated swathes of the Caribbean – flattening houses, ripping up power lines and smashing crops. Almost 1,000 people were killed or injured in Haiti – the worst affected country – and 1.4 million left in need of aid.
Cuba has not reported any fatalities, but the oldest town in the country, Baracoa – founded on the spot where Christopher Columbus first set foot – was ripped apart.
Wildy Bernot Rodriguez, who runs the Canacuba B&B, gathered 40 people inside his home to weather out the storm – including his wife Merqui, two toddlers Nathan and Hadassa, and two-month-old Aron.
“It’s absolutely terrible what has happened,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “It is incredible hard. We’ve gone back in time 100 years.
“It’s over for us.”
That there were no fatalities is due to the efforts of the Cuban authorities, who had worked hard to evacuate 1.3 million people from as much of the high-risk areas as possible.
Volunteer civil defence members went door to door, advising residents to evacuate, while Cuban state TV ran storm advisories on a loop and officials blared warnings from vehicles with loudspeakers.