Cuba needs aid, U.S. or otherwise

About 1.3 million people were evacuated from the region Ivan pounded most severely.

Hurricane Ivan – a Category 5 storm currently threatening Florida’s Panhandle – roared through Cuba early this week. The western part of the island saw 160 mph winds that ripped roofs off barns and houses. That same region was still recovering from Hurricane Charley when Ivan attacked.

Yet, while Ivan reached its deadliest force, Cuban President Fidel Castro adamantly said that his country would not accept any aid from the United States or other nations with sanctions against Cuba. Castro called such offers hypocritical: The United States offered $50,000 after Charley, but the Cuban leader practically scoffed, saying that even if the United States offered to cover all of the damage, “We can recuperate on our own.”

That’s a strong statement from a man leading an island country sitting in the path of most major tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. While hurricanes do have beneficial environmental effects, they can also devastate farmers.

About 1.3 million people – of Cuba’s 11.3 million – were evacuated from the region Ivan pounded most severely. No deaths or injuries have been reported, thanks in part to Cuban television’s first attempt at letting citizens follow the storm in detail using audiovisual technology. But Ivan still drenched tobacco fields, downed power lines, covered roads with water and pummeled the coast with 15- to 20-foot waves.

Castro has reason to let his ego dictate how he protects his people; many Cubans find him a strong, charismatic leader and trust his decisions. But the potential for destruction carried by a Category 5 hurricane should be cause to put social and economic differences aside. Ivan had the power to destroy a major part of Cuba’s livelihood – the island was lucky this time that the storm only brushed its shores.

Not that the United States’ anemic aid offer would make a large difference, but Castro should swallow his pride for humanitarian reasons and put the best interests of his people first. And if that means accepting a small amount of aid from countries that disagree with the way he does day-to-day business, so be it. Cuban citizens deserve better.