Cuba Says No, then Yes, to US Aid Following Hurricane

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

( - The Cuban government has challenged the United States to authorize food and medicine sales to the communist-run island, which is reeling from the damaging effects of Hurricane Michelle.

But a Cuban exile group thinks Fidel Castro simply wants the American taxpayer to pick up the tab for Cuba's recovery.

Cuba rejected an outright offer of U.S. emergency assistance, but then the Castro government contradicted itself, saying, "What would be useful for our country...would be to allow public Cuban firms to make speedy purchases of certain quantities of food, medicines and raw materials..."

The Castro government said it would pay the United States in cash, and it asked that the goods be delivered on Cuban ships.

The United States imposed an economic embargo against Cuba in 1960. But last year, Congress passed a measure allowing the direct sale of American goods to Cuba for the first time since 1961. However, that same measure also barred the U.S. government and U.S. banks from financing such sales.

Mariela Ferretti, a spokesperson for the Cuban American National Foundation, noted that when Congress passed the law last year, "Fidel Castro was quick to jump and say that he was not going to purchase a single aspirin from the United States until trade was normalized between the two countries."

Hurricane devastation

Hurricane Michelle killed five people in Cuba, destroyed thousands of houses, damaged crops and industry and knocked out communications and power across large areas of the island earlier this week. Radio Havana has not transmitted to America since Sunday night.

The State Department said Wednesday that any U.S. assistance would have to be administered by intermediaries other than the Cuban government. "Our goal would be to provide aid to the people of Cuba, to ensure that the Cuban people benefit and not the Castro regime," according to a State Department spokesman.

The Cuban-American National Foundation thinks Castro wants the American taxpayer to foot the bill for the hurricane recovery. CANF also said when the United States offered food and medicine before, Castro has said no.

"I don't see how Castro can be in any position to challenge another country into selling its goods," said Ferretti.

Ferretti also questions Castro desire to pay the United States in cash, because, she said, he doesn't have any money.

"It's a game that he has been playing with countries around the world where his credit is no longer any good, and the United States is practically one of the last countries available for him to play the game with," said Ferretti.

Trouble ahead?

Ferretti believes the "aid challenge" shows that Castro has a dangerous internal situation on his hands in Cuba.

"I think that the ministry of interior has been busy during the course of the past few days, taking the pulse of the Cuban population and they have come away with the knowledge that they are practically sitting on a powder keg of dynamite.

"If they (the Castro government) don't provide some kind of quick, visible and effective relief to the Cuban people, they are going to have severe internal problems," said Ferretti.