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Cuba/USA Disaster Diplomacy
http://www.disasterdiplomacy.org/cubausa.html

in association with
Radix:  Radical Interpretations of and Solutions for Disasters


Cuba/USA Disaster Diplomacy


Pre-2001 Overview

September 2000. As the article defining USA/Cuba disaster diplomacy, Michael H. Glantz publishes "Climate-Related Disaster Diplomacy: A US-Cuban Case Study". This paper discusses disaster diplomacy between the Cuba and the U.S.A. particularly for weather- and climate-related disasters. Full text (1,021 kb in PDF)

Comment on this article.


Terrorist attacks in the U.S.A. (11 September 2001)

Summary of Cuba's immediate reaction by the Council on Foreign Relations:
         Within hours of the attacks, Cuba offered medical assistance to the victims and opened Cuban airports to U.S. commercial planes diverted because of the crisis. That night, Castro condemned terrorism on national television. In subsequent weeks, the Cuban government signed all twelve U.N.-sanctioned international anti-terrorism treaties.
         At the same time, Cuban officials also used the opportunity to repeatedly complain about Cuba's own experience as a victim of what it calls “U.S.-sponsored terrorism,” including attacks by U.S.-backed anti-Castro groups. The complaints went over poorly in Washington, where they were viewed as evidence of Cuba's waffling commitment to fighting terrorism.

11 November 2001. Commentary by Ilan Kelman:
         Following Hurricane Michelle in November 2001, disaster diplomacy seems to have manifested minimally for the USA-Cuba case study only to quickly disappear. Does the diplomatic dancing evident in the news reports originate from only the destruction caused by Hurricane Michelle? Or was behind-the-scenes manoeuvring present before the hurricane struck and the disaster forced it into the public spotlight, similarly to the 1999 earthquakes in Greece and Turkey? One possibility is that the events of 11 September 2001 jolted the scene of traditional enmity in international politics. Washington may have learned not only that their "usual" enemies feel compassion for and can support the USA in the face of heinous atrocities but also that the "usual" enemies are nowhere near as bad as the new, emerging enemies. Disaster diplomacy displaying itself through the disaster of 11 September, perhaps. I am not certain what lessons Cuba may have learned, or be expecting to give, in turning down an ostensibly conciliatory gesture from the U.S. Aspects to watch are:
         (a) if these diplomatic efforts assist the relief and rebuilding operation in Cuba, through aid or through easing the embargo;
         (b) whether or not the initial steps witnessed will lead to longer-term and more substantial cooperation between Havana and Washington; and
         (c) the impact of Hurricane Michelle and September 11 on Cuba-US relations compared to the normally evolving political situation.
The disasters may turn out to be the catalyst, not the creator, of diplomacy, as in the other case studies.

17 January 2002. Have the consequences of 11 September 2001 brought Havana and Washington closer together? BBC Analysis.

Comment on this case study.


Hurricane Michelle (November 2001)

8 November 2001. After Hurricane Michelle, the U.S. offers aid to Cuba. BBC Coverage.

10 November 2001. From The Miami Herald by Tim Johnson.
         "Cuba declines U.S. aid, wants to pay for relief" Reeling from its worst hurricane in nearly half a century, Cuba has politely turned down a U.S. offer of disaster relief, challenging the United States instead to ease what it says is red tape on the export of U.S. food and medicine to the island.
         Cash-strapped Cuba said it would pay hard currency for the U.S. goods. It proposed that Cuban vessels be allowed to enter U.S. seaports to pick up the goods.
         The State Department said Washington would not accept the Cuban request.
         The unusual diplomatic exchange marked the latest jockeying between the two capitals in a week that also saw U.S. legislators give new indications that they want to relax a 4-decade-old U.S. embargo of Cuba.

11 November 2001. Commentary by Ilan Kelman:
         Disaster diplomacy seems to have manifested minimally for the USA-Cuba case study only to quickly disappear. Does the diplomatic dancing evident in the news reports originate from only the destruction caused by Hurricane Michelle? Or was behind-the-scenes manoeuvring present before the hurricane struck and the disaster forced it into the public spotlight, similarly to the 1999 earthquakes in Greece and Turkey? One possibility is that the events of 11 September 2001 jolted the scene of traditional enmity in international politics. Washington may have learned not only that their "usual" enemies feel compassion for and can support the USA in the face of heinous atrocities but also that the "usual" enemies are nowhere near as bad as the new, emerging enemies. Disaster diplomacy displaying itself through the disaster of 11 September, perhaps. I am not certain what lessons Cuba may have learned, or be expecting to give, in turning down an ostensibly conciliatory gesture from the U.S. Aspects to watch are:
         (a) if these diplomatic efforts assist the relief and rebuilding operation in Cuba, through aid or through easing the embargo;
         (b) whether or not the initial steps witnessed will lead to longer-term and more substantial cooperation between Havana and Washington; and
         (c) the impact of Hurricane Michelle and September 11 on Cuba-USA relations compared to the normally evolving political situation.
The disasters may turn out to be the catalyst, not the creator, of diplomacy, as in the other case studies.

12 November 2001. Commentary by George Kent:
         The story of the US offering disaster relief to Cuba, and Cuba's counteroffer calling for normalisation of trade relations, then turned down by the US, is fascinating. It reminds me of Mayor Giuliani's turning away an offer of US$10 million in assistance for New York City from a Saudi prince.
         What to make of all this? To me, both stories simply highlight the inescapably political nature of bilateral (country to country) assistance. Probably the best way to reduce the political character of assistance is to make it multilateral, that is, to have it go through a global agency. This global agency should operate on the basis of being politically neutral, insofar as possible. This would be accomplished by having its ground rules and procedures set up by agreement by the nations of the world. The donors would have a say in setting up the rules by which it operates, but would not be able to direct its operations on a case by case basis. Basically, the rules would say that assistance is to be provided based on need. Its operations would allow for little discretion in the delivery of assistance, something like the rules under which a municipal fire department operates.
         People in need should be viewed as being entitled to specific kinds of assistance under these rules. The obligations would fall on the international community as a whole, not on any individual nation.
         Of course there would be many difficulties in achieving these goals. Nations would still be free to offer bilateral assistance, and for that reason might be reluctant to funnel much of their resources through the multilateral assistance agency. Nevertheless, my sense is that we need to move in the direction of multilateralisation of international humanitarian assistance.

15 November 2001. Comments on Radix from Ben Wisner on the surprisingly low casualty toll in Cuba from Hurricane Michelle. He asks how a country's political system may impact disaster management. This discussion on socialism and disaster management is pertinent to the wider definition of disaster diplomacy in terms of noting what elements are necessary from the political realm for sustainable disaster practices.

17 November 2001. Castro Welcomes One-off US Trade. BBC Coverage.

16 December 2001. US Food Shipment Arrives in Cuba. BBC Coverage.

14 February 2002. An American agricultural delegation visits Cuba. Cuba to buy more American food. BBC Coverage--note that this article suggests the Cuba-USA business agreement dates back to 2000, well before Hurricane Michelle. If this statement is accurate, did the disaster provide the impetus to exercise the agreement in practice?

October 2003. Lino Naranjo Diaz writes Hurricane Early Warning in Cuba: An Uncommon Experience (27 kb in RTF which opens in Word) in which he states "Cubans have been forced to be more efficient in facing natural disasters in a scenario of political conflict with the US government. This is maybe an opposite view of the disaster diplomacy approach. Protective measures under a conflict are developed in such a way that the enemy would not be able to take advantages from the disaster." See the proposal for Mirror Disaster Diplomacy or Inverse Disaster Diplomacy for an expansion of this idea.

16 April 2004. Cuba buys over USD100 million worth of food from the USA. Again, this article states that such purchases have been permitted since 2000, before Hurricane Michelle. BBC Coverage.

7 May 2004. In what is likely election-year politics, American President Bush tightens restrictions on Cuba. BBC Coverage. Has Hurricane Michelle disaster diplomacy worn off--potential long-term international gains being supplanted by short-term domestic concerns--or did it never exist?

Comment on this case study.


Hurricane Dennis (July 2005)

Despite an evacuation of 600,000 people from vulnerable coastal areas, sixteen fatalities occurred in Cuba when Hurricane Dennis swept over the island in July 2005. Washington offered aid. Havana thanked the American government for the gesture, but declined, instead opting to accept assistance from Venezuela. An opening for Washington-Havana rapprochement existed and Cuba snubbed it.

Comment on this case study.


Hurricane Wilma (October 2005)

In October 2005, Hurricane Wilma breached Havana’s sea defenses and hundreds of people were rescued from the city. The U.S. State Department offered to send a three-person disaster assessment team and Cuba agreed. Castro later stated that the team would not assess damage and needs, but would discuss Caribbean disaster response coordination instead. The United States withdrew the offer.

Comment on this case study.


2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Partlow, J. 2008. "Hurricanes Shift Debate On Embargo Against Cuba". Washington Post, Wednesday, September 24, 2008, Page A01.

A pair of devastating storms have prompted new calls for the United States to end its long isolation of Cuba, including from hard-line exile groups that are pushing for the Bush administration to loosen restrictions they had long favored...So far, though, the Cuban government has rejected the U.S. offer, preferring instead to rely on relief aid that arrives daily by the planeload from Russia and other more sympathetic countries.

[...]

The question of who should help the Cubans in times of need and to what degree has shaped Cuba's relationship with the United States for decades. The severe damage done by the storms appears now to be changing the debate. The hurricanes, which hit the island one after the other in just over a week, damaged an estimated 500,000 homes and ruined 30 percent of the nation's crops.

Four days after Gustav struck Cuba on Aug. 30, the U.S. government offered to send an assessment team to the island and $100,000 in emergency funding for humanitarian groups. The Cuban government has estimated that the damage from the two storms totals $5 billion, and it dismissed the offer as too paltry to be serious.

But on Sept. 13, six days after Hurricane Ike barreled into the island of 11.4 million people, the Bush administration raised its offer to $5 million, which U.S. officials called an unprecedented proposal of direct aid to the Cuban government. In the past, U.S. aid to the island has been channeled through nongovernmental relief organizations. The Bush administration has authorized an additional $8 million in private U.S. donations to be distributed in that way.

The Cuban government requested building materials instead of the blankets and "hygiene kits" the aid included, said José Cárdenas, the U.S. Agency for International Development's acting assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean.

"These people are in dire need," he said. "We certainly hope that they would just accept it and get this stuff to the people who need it."

In an attempt to fulfill the request for building materials, the U.S. government on Friday proposed sending 8,000 "shelter kits," which include zinc roof sheeting, lumber, tools and wire. Cárdenas said the value of the aid is $6.3 million. So far, the Cuban government has not responded.

But Fidel Castro, who because of illness handed over official power to Raúl in February but remains highly influential, has signaled that the Communist Party would reject the U.S. aid on principle.

[...]


Health Diplomacy for Cuba

For more general discussion, see also the specific webpage for Disease Diplomacy, which is a subset of Health Diplomacy.

Kelly, C. 2015 (January 16). Global Health Diplomacy: Cuba's Soft Power Foreign Policy. Master's dissertation for an M.A. International Relations, International Studies, Leiden University, the Netherlands.

Comment on this case study.


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