Pride keeps storm aid from Cuba


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By MYRIAM MARQUEZ

Sep 27th

P ride, it's the sin of sins, the one that caused an angel named Lucifer to turn against God and want to run things himself. It's been downhill ever since.

I don't mean to preach religion. This is about the politics of pride.

We live it here in South Florida every day. And after the devastation that back-to-back hurricanes Gustav and Ike caused in much of the Caribbean -- Cuba and Haiti, in particular -- we're still witnessing how pride can harm suffering people.

For all the Bush administration's political posturing over how best to help Cuba -- initially requiring an emergency team to check on the damage before sending substantial aid -- our government has tried to do right by the people of Cuba. The U.S. Agency for International Development was poised to send $6.3 million in construction materials -- zinc roofs, nails, lumber -- along with food and medicine. Light shelter kits would give a temporary home to 48,000 of the hundreds of thousands left homeless.

No strings attached.

But no, once again, Cuba's communist leaders put pride ahead of people's needs.

FIDEL'S CRITICISM

In one of his published ''reflections,'' Fidel Castro blasted USAID last week as a CIA front and sniffed that Cuba doesn't need aid from the imperialists.

The USAID surely has not done as good a job as it should over the years monitoring groups sending aid to Cuba.

The U.S. government's own auditors have pointed out that much of the money stays in South Florida.

This year, the Bush administration started to change the way it awards contracts to end the abuse.

But on emergency aid after a natural disaster, USAID has done a lot of good in a lot of places.

In an island facing $5 billion-plus in damages, with an estimated half-million families homeless, the Cuban regime prefers to ignore a $6.3 million U.S. offer.

That's one-fifth of what Cuba has received from its leftist allies.

Cuban leaders want the U.S. embargo suspended, so they can ''buy'' goods on credit.

Except the regime has a long record of defaulting on payments to its friends. Imagine the payback planned for Castro's half-century-old enemy.

At least $1.78 million of U.S. government aid is reaching Cuba through nonprofits and other nongovernment groups working with USAID, but the U.S. approach also has been contaminated by the politics of pride.

LICENSE TAPPED OUT

In two days, the Cuban American National Foundation tapped out its U.S. license issued for hurricane relief that allowed Cuban Americans to help extended family and friends.

Hitting the $250,000 limit on the license, CANF applied to the U.S. Treasury for another humanitarian assistance license.

This time, the U.S. government reverted to the Bush rules, restricting such direct aid. The new license only allows aid to go to dissidents and civil society groups, which CANF has done for years but can only go so far.

INCREASED PRESSURE

Dissidents already are getting pressured by Cuban security officials to not hand out even $10 to their needy neighbors.

While Cuban officials harass dissidents, CANF has 400 applications -- it has stopped accepting more until the license issue is resolved -- from Cuban Americans hoping to send money to an aunt or a former neighbor.

''This is a real necessity, a moment of crisis,'' said CANF spokeswoman Sandy Acosta Cox. ``It's not the time to limit the ways people can help.''

No it's not, but the politics of pride -- here and mostly there -- keeps making a mockery of Cubans' true suffering.

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