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Cuban-Americans Readying Relief Effort for Cuba


Cuban-Americans in Miami, Florida are collecting donations and aid supplies for people in Cuba who have been affected by Hurricane Ike and other recent storms. VOA's Brian Wagner reports that community leaders are asking U.S. and Cuban officials to relax restrictions between the countries to facilitate the relief efforts.

Cuban-Americans are boxing up canned food and other supplies, and some Miami churches are setting aside space for donations to be sent to hurricane survivors in Cuba in coming days. News reports about damage from Hurricane Ike this week indicate the storm may have been one of the worst to hit the island in recent years.

The relief effort by Miami's Cuban community is a common response to hurricane damage on the Communist-ruled island. This time, however, Cuban exiles are against U.S. restrictions that limit Cuban-Americans to sending only $300 to family members in Cuba every three months.

In response to the hurricane, the Cuban American National Foundation has reached an agreement with U.S. officials to temporarily relax the limits, enabling families to send up to one thousand dollars.

Foundation Chairman Jorge Mas Santos says the group is helping to process wire transfers of up to $250,000 during the next three months. "We have an agreement with Western Union who has assured us the money will be delivered directly to family members in Cuba within the next 24 hours. It is our hope that in the next 48-to-72 hours, we can provide $100 to 1,000 families," he said.

Some relief groups say Cuba's government has confiscated relief supplies arriving on the island following disasters in the past. Mas Santos says that cash, unlike supplies, has a much better chance of getting directly into the hands of Cuban families. He says any increase in cash remittances will have a positive impact in Cuba. "I think that you unleash the power not only of tens-of-thousands of Cuban-Americans, but of millions of dollars that can go to the island directly without having to go through the regime, the government or NGOs [i.e., non-governmental organizations]," he said.

The U.S. State Department has announced $100,000 in aid for non-governmental organizations to assist Cubans affected by Hurricanes Ike and Gustav. Officials also are taking applications from groups seeking to provide up to $10 million in immediate humanitarian aid.

The Miami-based organization, Democracy Movement is hoping to receive permission from Havana to begin ferrying donated supplies by boat and airplane into Cuba. The group already is preparing to accept donations of canned food, baby bottles, school supplies and clothing at a Miami warehouse.

Democracy Movement leader Ramon Saul Sanchez says his group needs permission from Cuba's government to deliver the supplies.

Sanchez says he wants to see Cuba's government open up to outside assistance, especially from Cuban-Americans who want only to help their families and fellow Cubans.

Sanchez says very few international aid groups have licenses to bring relief supplies into Cuba. He says if Cuba's government rejects their request, they may transfer the donations to other licensed groups to deliver to hurricane survivors.



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