Cuba has turned down offers from the United States of assistance to rebuild their country in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, in a sign that the relationship between the Cold War foes remains frustratingly frosty.
Several US-based charities have said the Cuban government is refusing to let them fly in aid, while the US government’s international development department, USAID, told The Sunday Telegraph that they have not sent any relief to Cuba – despite sending millions of dollars in assistance to other affected countries.
Fidel Castro, now 90, set the tone, stating after President Barack Obama’s historic March visit: “We don’t need the empire to give us anything.”
And his government seems determined to prove him right.
“We have not received a request from the government of Cuba for assistance,” said a spokesman for USAID. By contrast, the US has been highly active in Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas, and contributed significant funds since the October 4 hurricane – the most ferocious storm in almost a decade.
Hurricane Matthew devastated swathes of the Caribbean – flattening houses, ripping up power lines and smashing crops. Almost 1,000 people were killed or injured in Haiti – the worst affected country – and 1.4 million left in need of aid.
Cuba has not reported any fatalities, but the oldest town in the country, Baracoa – founded on the spot where Christopher Columbus first set foot – was ripped apart.
Wildy Bernot Rodriguez, who runs the Canacuba B&B, gathered 40 people inside his home to weather out the storm – including his wife Merqui, two toddlers Nathan and Hadassa, and two-month-old Aron.
“It’s absolutely terrible what has happened,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “It is incredible hard. We’ve gone back in time 100 years.
“It’s over for us.”
That there were no fatalities is due to the efforts of the Cuban authorities, who had worked hard to evacuate 1.3 million people from as much of the high-risk areas as possible.
Volunteer civil defence members went door to door, advising residents to evacuate, while Cuban state TV ran storm advisories on a loop and officials blared warnings from vehicles with loudspeakers.
But winds of 140mph and 16-foot waves meant that 90 per cent of the buildings in the town were damaged, according to the Cuban government, and the streets were strewn with bricks and rubble.
“It looks like a battle field, of some ancient war,” said Mr Rodriguez. “I could cry.”
And yet teams from Baltimore and Miami have found themselves unable to get into the country to help.
“The problem is the Cuban government is not allowing emergency relief to come in from the United States,” said the Rev. Jose Espino, a priest in Miami, who is helping coordinate Archdiocese of Miami’s relief efforts.
He said donations of canned food, rice and beans has already been dispatched to Haiti, but none of the supplies have gone out to Cuba – despite the church being offered the use of a 727 to fly in food.
He told The Miami Herald that colleagues in the church in Cuba have been helping, accepting the money from the US and buying food and supplies. But the situation was not ideal.
“The problem buying in the local market in Cuba is that there is no wholesale, and buying in quantity means there wouldn’t be supplies for other people in Cuba,” he said. “So the church is buying supplies little by little.”
The Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services told a similar tale.
Basing themselves in Haiti before the storm, immediately after it passed they began distributing pre-positioned supplies – something they wanted to do in Cuba, but have not yet been able to.
They now think their only option is to provide funding to Caritas Cuba, the Catholic relief mission on the island, so that it can buy supplies in-country.
And the from Havana decision shows how, despite the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the US in December 2014, the two countries still have a long way to go until they can trust each other.
The US has for several years dedicated funds to helping democratic and “good governance” organisations. But the Cubans do not want aid.
Mr Obama last week announced what is probably his final gesture to the island he has worked so hard to bring in from the cold: permission for Americans to bring home unlimited amounts of rum and cigars. US flights are now regularly crossing the 90 miles from Florida to Cuba. Tourist numbers have soared.
And yet there remain significant hurdles.
Last week the foreign minister, Josefina Vidal, led protests against the US embargo – something which Mr Obama wants to lift, but which only Congress can scrap. Fidel Castro celebrated his 90th birthday in August with a letter criticising the US president.
Havana has allowed in aid from other countries, however.
Japan has donated a planeload of tents, rolls of cables, water purifiers and other relief supplies.
Venezuela has sent electrical transformers, dump trucks, concrete mixers, and materials for home construction. Two more shiploads from Venezuela are expected, despite the severe economic problems Cuba’s staunch ally is experiencing at home.
The World Food Programme is also assisting, stating that it plans to distribute food to 180,000 people in coordination with the Cuban government over the next six months.
But the contrast between Cuba and its neighbours is sharp.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, rightfully receives the lion’s share. But the Bahamas and Jamaica are also receiving substantial assistance.
Last week USAID announced more than $12 million in additional aid for Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas – including food, blankets, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, chain saws, water containers, generators, and heavy-duty plastic sheeting.
Baracoa has been without water, yet in Haiti USAID is providing a three month’s supply of chlorine to be used in piped water systems throughout the country, as fears of a cholera outbreak grow.