HAVANA Cuba politely declined a U.S. offer to send a disaster assessment team to the island after Hurricane Gustav, saying Saturday it would rather Washington suspend restrictions on travel and the sale of food and other materials it needs to recover.
Cuba's Foreign Ministry did not mention some $100,000 in humanitarian aid that Washington offered to send through nonprofit groups, along with the assessment team. It said in a statement that it appreciated the U.S. government gesture recognizing the destruction that Gustav caused.
The Cuban statement was released as forecasters predicted another powerful hurricane, Ike, will likely sweep across the length of the island early in the week.
Today when the country's east already is under storm alert with the threat of Hurricane Ike, just as powerful as Gustav, Cuba affirms that in reality the only correct, ethical (action) ... would be the total and definitive elimination of the harsh and cruel economic, commercial and financial blockade applied over nearly a half century against our nation, the statement said.
The Foreign Ministry noted that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has called for a temporary suspension on restrictions on family travel and remittances to the island while Cuba recovers. His rival, Republican John McCain has called for easing restrictions only when the U.S. is confident that the transition to a free and open democracy is being made.
Currently, people of Cuban origin living in the U.S. can visit the island only once every three years and can send money only to members of their immediate families, excluding cousins, aunts and uncles.
Ailing former leader Fidel Castro wrote this week that recovery from Gustav could cost billions of dollars on an island where the average state salary is only about US$20 per month.