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.
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.
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],"
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
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.
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.