How to help victims of Hurricane Ian in Cuba

In the week since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba, flattening buildings and knocking out the island’s power grid, protests have erupted in the streets over persistent power outages, leading to a deterioration of food and further civil unrest.

Cuban-born economist and American University faculty member Ricardo Torres Pérez said the Category 3 hurricane that devastated the western region of the island was a blow to an already struggling economy. .

“It is a tragedy for thousands of Cubans. There’s no way to underestimate that,” said Torres Pérez. “It’s not catastrophic because it’s not the whole country, but it’s a severe impact on the very weak economy.”

Tobacco production, in particular, came to a screeching halt in the province of Pinar del Río, according to Torres Pérez.

“It’s an industry that already had problems,” he said. “All the infrastructure associated with the industry is gone, so they have to start from scratch. That’s a major impact that will be felt this year and next year in terms of revenue.”

Michael Doering, World Help’s Latin America liaison, traveled to Cuba to meet with the Christian humanitarian organization’s network of congregations and house churches, which number in the thousands across Cuba. ‘island.

“The stories I was hearing were just dire,” Doering said. “Basically, whole villages were destroyed and none of the crops survived. There really is no other way to describe it.

Getting disaster relief to the Caribbean’s largest island can be difficult in the face of sanctions, embargoes and political tensions between the United States and Cuba.

Manolo De Los Santos, co-executive director of the New York-based People’s Forum, spent six years at Global Ministries’ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center in Havana. He stayed in touch with the Cuban religious institution after returning to the United States, and a partnership between the center and the People’s Forum grew to include thousands of local organizers across the island. Despite these connections, they still face limitations in obtaining and providing aid to the Caribbean’s largest island.

“The center certainly accepts donations, but they have a major challenge, which is that the bank they use, for example, in Cuba is sanctioned by the US government,” De Los Santos said. “We’re scratching our heads trying to figure out how to bring resources directly to them.”

Members of the United Nations General Assembly have continued their calls for the United States to end its economic blockade on Cuba through consecutive resolutions for nearly three decades, since 1992.

Earlier this year, the State Department lifted caps on remittances, allowing anyone from the United States, regardless of Cuban origin, to send an unlimited amount of money to people across the country. ‘island. The Biden administration made the announcement in May and the policy took effect in early June.

Torres Pérez said the move can ease financial burdens incurred amid humanitarian crises, including Ian.

“It happened in a timely manner,” he said. “People have the right to help their loved ones, by any means. They will have new channels to legally transfer funds to their close friends in Cuba.

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control authorizes the necessary licenses to send disaster relief to Cubans. Although an embargo is still in effect, there are exemptions allowing certain forms of humanitarian aid to the island, including food and medicine.

“The aid that we have sent must be channeled officially. Permission must be obtained to import the containers,” Doering said.

Even when help arrives on the island, distribution can also be a challenge.

“Cuba is still today a totalitarian society where the state is the sole provider of emergency or humanitarian aid,” said Sebastián Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. “Even when aid is offered by foreign governments, entities or Cuban exiles, the Cuban government prefers to collect and distribute that aid.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Cuban government requested assistance from the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Arcos said the distribution of disaster aid is considered “a highly political issue” by the Cuban government and “a threat to its absolute control of society.”

“The only exception to this rule is the Cuban Catholic Church,” Arcos added, “which has been able to channel humanitarian aid in a limited way.”

Catholicism plays a prominent role in Cuba. The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba once estimated that it baptized 60% of the island’s 11 million inhabitants.

Over two decades, Catholic Relief Services has nurtured a relationship with the Cuban Catholic Church and its humanitarian arm, Caritas Cuba, said Haydee Díaz, who oversees Caribbean aid response for Catholic Relief Services.

The faith-based international humanitarian organization ships non-perishable foodstuffs, such as rice, beans, oil, pasta, sardines, salt and sugar, as well as hygiene items, such as soaps, detergents and nappies, in Cuba.

“We’re basically trying to make sure we can support the Cuban Catholic Church by getting these basic supplies to help people cope in the first days after the disaster,” Díaz said.

Here are some ways to help

Catholic Relief Services works with Caritas Cuba to distribute non-perishable food, water and hygiene items to Cubans in need. Online donations support these efforts and fund long-term shelter repairs to strengthen the island’s fragile housing infrastructure.

World Help is raising funds to ship food, drinking water and clothing to Cuba in the days and weeks ahead.

The People’s Forum is seeking donations to fund the purchase of roofing materials in Mexico, which can be shipped directly to their Cuban partners in the field.

How to avoid charity scams

  • Determine if the organization, nonprofit, or group has a track record of providing help to those in need.
  • Identify local initiatives and efforts that are based in areas most affected by the natural disaster.
  • Beware of phone calls and emails soliciting donations.
  • Avoid unknown agencies and websites. There’s a story of scammers creating websites that look like donation pages after a major tragedy, but were actually scams.

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