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House Dems urge Biden to provide assistance to Cuba amid fire

On Wednesday, a trio of House Democrats publicly urged President Joe Biden to provide immediate aid to Cuba amid the catastrophic oil fire devastating parts of the neighboring island.

“We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Matanzas, Cuba, less than 150 miles from our border,” said Reps. Gregory Meeks (NY), Barbara Lee (California) and Jim McGovern (Mass.) in a joint statement. statement. “Crises like this require an urgent and significant response from neighboring countries.”

“Crises like this require an urgent and significant response from neighboring countries.”

Lawmakers called on the Biden administration “to immediately offer appropriate assistance to facilitate international response efforts following the explosions at the Matanzas supertanker base.”

They also implored the White House “to suspend all relevant sanctions in order to expedite such a response, and to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of Cuban citizens affected by this crisis, as well as the many others facing multiple crises.” and cascading. in Cuba, including shortages of food, energy and medicine.”

Despite calls from Democratic lawmakers and Biden’s own campaign pledge to reverse his predecessor’s ‘failed’ approach to Cuba — which included implementing more than 200 punitive policies as a result of efforts Obama-era normalization – the president has imposed additional sanctions in recent months, intensifying the 60-year-old embargo on the Caribbean island.

Additionally, Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) legislative attempt to make it easier for Cuba to import food grown by U.S. farmers was defeated just three weeks ago.

“We are concerned that the significant recovery efforts needed in Matanzas will push an already resource-strapped Cuba to the brink,” said Meeks, Lee and McGovern, the respective chairs of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, subcommittee House Appropriations on State and Foreign Operations and the House Rules Committee.

“Now is the time to put politics aside and prioritize humanitarian engagement, environmental protection and regional cooperation,” they added.

Just Foreign Policy applauded the lawmakers’ statement. The progressive advocacy group hopes that Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols and Assistant Assistant Secretary of State for the Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs Emily Menrala will “do the right thing” by distributing aid quickly.

While Lee said On Wednesday, while speaking with Lianys Torres Rivera, Cuba’s ambassador to the United States, to “express solidarity with Cuba as they respond to the fires in Mantanzas”, it remains unclear what the House Blanche has been doing whatever it takes to help Cuban officials since the ongoing fire broke out last Friday after lightning struck the country’s largest oil storage facility.

As human rights lawyer Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan and CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin detailed Wednesday in a Common dreams opinion piece:

This latest disaster – the largest oil fire in Cuban history – comes at a time when Cuba is currently going through an energy crisis due to soaring global fuel prices, as well as overstretched and outdated infrastructure. The raging fire will no doubt further exacerbate the power outages Cubans are suffering due to the ongoing energy crisis which is occurring in the midst of one of the hottest summers on record anywhere in the world.

Almost immediately, the Cuban government requested international assistance from other countries, especially its neighbors who have experience dealing with oil-related fires. Mexico and Venezuela responded immediately and with great generosity. Mexico sent 45,000 liters of fire-fighting foam in 16 flights, along with firefighters and equipment. Venezuela sent firefighters and technicians, along with 20 tons of foam and other chemicals.

The United States, on the other hand, offered technical assistance, which amounted to telephone consultations. Despite its invaluable expertise and experience in dealing with major fires, the United States has not sent personnel, equipment, aircraft, materials or other resources to its neighbor that would actually help minimize the risks to human life and the environment.

The United States Embassy in Havana instead offered its condolences and declared on the fourth day of the fiery blaze that they were “monitoring the situation carefully” and that US entities and organizations could provide disaster relief. They even have job an email, [email protected], for people who want to help, stating that “our team is an excellent resource for facilitating exports and donations of humanitarian goods to Cuba or for answering any questions.” But people who reached out to that email for help get an automated response back, telling them to check out their fact sheet from a year ago.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, on the other hand, “the Cuban government offered to send 1,586 doctors to New Orleans, each carrying 27 pounds of medicine – an offer that was rejected by the United States” , noted Bannan and Benjamin.

“While the U.S. government is only speaking out to help in Cuba’s emergency, the truth is that U.S. sanctions against Cuba create real and significant barriers for organizations trying to provide assistance to Cubans, both United States and abroad,” they explained. “In any case, the response to this disaster should come primarily from the US government, not NGOs.”

The couple continued:

An Obama-era presidential policy directive specifically mentions U.S. cooperation with Cuba “in areas of mutual interest, including diplomatic, agricultural, public health, and environmental issues, as well as disaster preparedness and response.” disasters”. Despite the 243 sanctions imposed by the Trump administration — and upheld overwhelmingly by the White House Biden — the policy directive appears to remain in effect. Additionally, Cuba and the United States signed a bilateral oil spill preparedness and response agreement in 2017 before Trump took office, which the United States says means both countries “will cooperate and coordinate in an effort to prevent, contain and clean up marine hydrocarbons”. and other hazardous pollution to minimize adverse effects on public health and safety and the environment.”

The agreement provides a roadmap for bilateral cooperation to address the current humanitarian and environmental catastrophe. In addition, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, part of USAID, “is responsible for directing and coordinating the U.S. government’s response to disasters abroad,” including dispatching technical experts like they have done so in over 50 countries. Neither the OFDA nor any other part of USAID, which spends about $20 million a year to fund regime change in Cuba (mostly to Florida-based groups), has so far offered to help. humanitarian aid.

“While Congress takes important steps to advance legislation to address climate change and disasters, the Biden administration is monitoring a potential environmental disaster 90 miles off the US coast without offering meaningful assistance to contain it, both to protect the Cuban people but also to mitigate any potential marine damage to the narrow strait that separates the two countries,” Bannan and Benjamin wrote.

“The suspension of aid at this critical time sends a signal to Cubans, Cuban Americans and the world that the Biden administration has no real interest in the well-being of the Cuban people, despite claims to the contrary,” they added. .