The Biden administration is providing Cuba with $2 million in funding for emergency relief to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, the State Department announced Tuesday.
The aid is in response to a rare request for emergency assistance Cuba’s government made last month, after the Category 3 hurricane plowed through the western part of the island.
The aid will go through the U.S. Agency for International Development as emergency relief to those in need in communist-run Cuba.
“The United States is providing to the Cuban people critical humanitarian aid to trusted international partners working directly with Cubans whose communities were devastated by the storm,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in an emailed statement.
The statement said the U.S. will work with “trusted, independent organizations operating in the country who have a long presence in hurricane-affected communities.”
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez thanked the U.S. on Twitter.
“We appreciate humanitarian assistance offer made by the U.S.,” he wrote. “This material contribution that is worth 2 million USD, channelled through the International Federation of Red Cross, will add up to our recovery efforts in support of the victims of the ravages caused by #HurricaneIan.”
The U.S. has offered Cuba aid in the past, but it has been declined. In 2008, President George W. Bush offered Cuba up to $5 million after two powerful hurricanes. Cuba's leader at the time, Fidel Castro, rejected the offer, saying the U.S. had caused billions of dollars in damage with its embargo. He wrote in a column that the U.S. does not understand that “the dignity of a people has no price.”
A State Department spokesperson told NBC News that USAID under Bush’s administration provided $1.6 million to non-governmental organizations in Cuba in 2008 after Hurricane Gustav. It also provided $50,000 in 2004, $100,000 in 2005, and $100,000 in 2006 after hurricanes hit the island. Most recently, USAID provided personal protective equipment for firefighters to help fight a large deadly blaze at an oil storage facility in September.
Hurricane Ian caused Cuba’s outdated electrical grid, which was already in desperate need of repair, to collapse, leaving the entire country in the dark for days. Throughout the island there were sporadic protests during those dark nights without power, which authorities met with a crackdown.
The mostly rural province of Pinar del Rio, which was in the path of the hurricane, was devastated, and much of it is still without power. Around 63,000 homes were damaged, and up to 7,000 were lost.
Even before the hurricane, Cuba was in its worst economic crisis in decades, with power outages that last over 12 hours and shortages of food and medicine. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on tourism, along with Trump-era sanctions that President Joe Biden has largely kept in place, have worsened the island’s already inefficient centrally planned economy.
The State Department said it is reviewing applications from organizations like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to provide the assistance.
“The United States will continue to monitor and assess humanitarian needs in coordination with our trusted partners and the international community, and we will continue to seek ways to provide meaningful support to the Cuban people, consistent with U.S. laws and regulations,” Price’s statement said.