By GEORGE GEDDA | ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
In a rare show of cooperation, Cuba will allow three American aid officials to make an onsite assessment of damage from Hurricane Wilma, the State Department said Thursday.
Cuba has routinely turned down American offers of assistance during disasters over the years.
Waist-deep water coursed through the streets of Havana earlier this week, and chunks of the city’s famous Malecon seawall were ripped off.
On Tuesday, the United States offered to send the three U.S. Agency for International Development experts to the island. Cuba accepted on Wednesday.
The display of U.S.-Cuban cooperation was not expected to produce any easing in the friction between the two countries. The official U.S. policy is to seek a democratic transition in Cuba once President Fidel Castro, 79, is gone, rather than accept a regime-orchestrated succession. The U.S. trade embargo dates back more than 40 years.
For his part, Castro has waged a 46-year struggle against U.S. interests.
According to the collective memory of the State Department’s Cuba hands, this was the first time the Castro government has accepted a U.S. offer of emergency assistance, department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
“Cuba has not solicited international aid,” Castro said Thursday on Cuban television. “It shares, however, the point of view” that countries in the region should “provide each other with mutual assistance in situations of disaster.”
On Thursday, the three U.S. aid experts were making travel arrangements to go to Cuba. Any aid offers would be based on what that team found, and all aid would be distributed through independent groups, McCormack said.
After Hurricane Dennis pummeled the island in July, Castro expressed gratitude for Washington’s offer of $50,000 in aid but rejected it.
Havana offered 1,600 doctors to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. The State Department said the Cuban help was not needed because enough American doctors had offered their services.
It is not unusual for the United States to offer aid to adversary countries. Iran accepted U.S. aid following an earthquake in 2003. Also, there have been frequent humanitarian food shipments to North Korea over the past decade.