September 18, 2008 / 7:14 PM / in 9 years

Cuba says U.S. lying about hurricane aid

Cuba's Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque addresses the media in a news conference at the foreign ministry in Havana September 18, 2008. REUTERS/Claudia Daut

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba on Thursday accused the U.S. government of lying about its aid to the island following hurricanes Ike and Gustav and said the 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba is hurting recovery from the storms.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said the Bush administration was conducting “a propaganda operation” to make it look like it was helping the island after the storms caused $5 billion in damage.

The United States has said it gave $100,000 in aid for Cuba and accelerated the approval of $250 million in agricultural sales from U.S. companies.

It also offered $5 million in aid that Cuba rejected, saying it would not accept U.S. help due to the embargo imposed a few years after the now ailing Fidel Castro took over the island in a 1959 revolution.

Perez Roque, in a news conference, said the licensing of agricultural sales, permitted under the embargo, was routine procedure and did not represent aid because Cuba pays in cash for what it buys from U.S. farmers.

“To try to present this process and the licenses they say they’ve granted in recent days as proof of their willingness to cooperate is really a coarse manipulation,” he said.

As for the $100,000, “we don’t have the slightest idea where they’ve distributed this money nor have we asked for it.”

He also said the United States had exaggerated when it said in a recent statement that private U.S. groups gave $61 million in humanitarian aid to Cuba last year.

The actual amount, Perez Roque said, was $6.1 million. He said the number of U.S. nongovernmental organizations operating in Cuba had dropped from 160 before the Bush administration took office 7 1/2 years ago to 21.

The State Department said last week aid in 2007 included $20.6 million in nonagricultural humanitarian donations and $40.5 million in medical donations, part of $240.5 million in private aid that year.

Cuba has asked the United States to at least temporarily lift the trade embargo so it can buy construction materials and other goods its needs to recover from the hurricanes that hit within 10 days of each other starting Aug. 30.

The embargo, Perez Roque said, is “the principal obstacle to the work of recovering from the damage of Gustav and Ike.”

“The blockade (embargo) is a flagrant, massive violation of the rights of the Cuban people,” he said.

He said the embargo had caused $3.7 billion in economic damages to Cuba in 2007 and $224 billion since its inception.

Cuba will present a resolution denouncing the embargo to the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 29, Perez Roque said.

The U.N. General Assembly regularly denounces the U.S. embargo against Cuba and last year approved a similar resolution by a vote of 184-4.

Perez Roque also confirmed earlier reports that Cuba had conditionally accepted resumption of formal political dialogue with the European Union after the 27-member bloc lifted diplomatic sanctions in June.

Dialogue broke off when the EU imposed the sanctions against the Caribbean island in 2003 after the Cuban government arrested 75 dissidents.

Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank in Havana

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