HAVANA Cuba has turned down U.S. storm relief handouts, but is asking for trade restrictions to be lifted so it can buy American materials to assist in its recovery from Hurricane Ike, officials said Thursday.
"Cuba hasn't asked the United States government to give it anything," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma. "Simply that it lets us buy."
The Foreign Ministry said it has for the second time turned down a U.S. government offer to send a disaster assessment team to the island, insisting that Cuban experts are capable of assessing damage wrought by Ike when it ravaged the island this week.
Cuba says it wants some U.S. trade restrictions lifted instead, so it can buy American roofing and other construction materials to repair homes and the island's electrical grid. It also wants the U.S. to allow lenders to give credits to help Cuba buy U.S. foods, which law already permits Americans to sell to the island on a cash-only basis.
Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, which struck last week, together damaged 320,000 homes on the island, Cuban civil defense officials reported Thursday.
The Cuban government has not released an overall damage estimate, but the tally could surpass US$2 billion. According to official figures, the average cost of constructing a new home in Cuba is US$8,000, and the storms also caused widespread damage to agriculture and electrical grids.
Possible U.S. aid to Cuba has been complicated by a half-century standoff between the two countries, which includes a broad U.S. trade embargo.
After Ike, the United States offered to give Cuba US$100,000 in emergency aid and send a disaster team from a non-governmental organization to assess damage. Cuba has expressed no interest, insisting that the U.S. could best help by allowing Cuba to buy American materials to undertake its own recovery.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday rejected the idea of lifting any aspect of the embargo.
The Foreign Ministry said U.S. government assists many other countries without sending inspection teams to tour them. The U.S. "tries to suggest that it is desperate to cooperate with Cuba and that we are turning them down," it said.
On Wednesday, Cuban-born U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez told The Associated Press that the U.S. may ease some financing restrictions against Cuba, allowing Americans to donate more to relief groups that are providing aid to parts of the storm-ravaged island.
Still, Washington is not considering suspending any other part of its embargo, Gutierrez said.
Some aid organizations already had a presence in Cuba, including Baltimore, Maryland-based Catholic Relief Services, which offered US$130,000 following Gustav and has pledged to give more once it has a better idea of Ike's damage.
Cuban-American groups and several Democratic members of Congress have called on the Bush administration to relax restrictions on travel and remittances for people of Cuban origin to visit and take cash and goods to relatives on the island. They include the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.