WASHINGTON – Cuba has unexpectedly agreed to a quiet U.S. offer of emergency aid following Hurricane Wilma (search), and three Americans will travel to Cuba to assess needs there, the State Department said Thursday.
Washington has routinely offered humanitarian relief for hurricanes and other disasters in Cuba, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro (search) himself has routinely turned the offers down. After Hurricane Dennis pummeled the island in July, Castro expressed gratitude for Washington's offer of $50,000 in aid but rejected it.
"This was the first time they have accepted an offer of assistance," Staack said, at least based on the "collective memory" of diplomats at the department.
Washington sent a diplomatic note to Cuban officials on Tuesday, a day after day the storm pounded the island nation, offering to send emergency supplies. Cuba accepted the offer Wednesday, McCormack said.
The State Department did not specify what supplies might be sent, but humanitarian assistance generally covers food, medicine, related supplies or emergency housing.
A three-person team from the U.S. Agency for International Development is making travel arrangements now, McCormack said. Additional aid offers would be based on what that team found, and all aid would go to Cuba indirectly, through aid groups, McCormack said.
Cuba and the United States do not have full diplomatic relations, a legacy of more than 40 years of Cold War (search) acrimony. A U.S. trade embargo on Cuba has been in place since the Kennedy administration. More recently, the Bush administration has branded Cuba one of the world's few remaining "outposts of tyranny" in a league with Myanmar, Belarus and Zimbabwe.
Havana offered 1,600 doctors to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the United States on Aug. 29. The State Department said the Cuban help was not needed because enough American doctors had offered their services.
Floodwaters in Havana caused damage to historic buildings and the famed Malecon seawall. Dozens of city blocks were flooded by the storm, but no deaths were reported in Havana. Wilma has been blamed for at least 22 deaths, five in Florida, 12 in Haiti, at least 4 in Mexico and 1 in Jamaica.