Reality Check. When Venezuela and Cuba offered aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane-Katrina

Eighty per cent of New Orleans was inundated when levies broke during Hurricane Katrina.

By TONY SEED

Originally published March 2, 2019 during the US “humanitarian aid” offensive against Venezuela

Fifteen years ago, at 6 a.m. on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the most infamous social disaster in the modern history of the United States preceding the 2020 pandemic. Hurricanes are measured by the velocity of their winds, the height of their storm surges, and other similar properties. But disasters are remembered by their impact on the social and natural environment, and on that scale Katrina is one of the most destructive disasters in U.S. history. The presidency of George W. Bush responded by federalizing military rule, providing a template in many respects to that of the Donald Trump presidency in 2020 to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is little discussed that many countries responded with offers of aid despite the universal unpopularity of the presidency of George W. Bush, then in its fifth year, which had unleashed different wars of aggression worldwide.  Through the prism of time we can better understand the humanitarian principles, ethics and morality – or absence thereof – guiding the response of four countries to such a natural disaster: the United States, Canada and the NATO bloc on the one hand, and Venezuela and Cuba on the other, both of which immediately offered unconditional aid to the American people which the Bush administration never even bothered to acknowledge. It is of particular relevance to an understanding of how an imperialist power today morbidly vilifies the two small countries as monsters for the crime of refusing its own militarized “humanitarian aid” and affirming their dignity and sovereignty. The Category 5 storm with winds of 125 miles per hour, down from 175-mile mph, wreaked mass destruction on New Orleans and affected other cities along the Gulf Coast in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana as they also reported fatalities and damage to buildings and other infrastructures like roads and drainage systems. It had already dropped heavy rain over parts of northern and western coasts of Cuba as it drove towards the Gulf Coast. Its rotating winds extended 200 miles from the eye of the storm, meaning that it essentially filled the entire Gulf. On August 31, remnants of the storm reached as far north as Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes which separate the USA and Canada. The effects of such storms, however disastrous, are usually localized. The historic city, founded by the French in 1717, was protected by a system of dykes originally built by the Acadians deported from the Maritimes by the British colonialists in 1756. The city is surrounded by a river levee system 25 feet high along its southern boundary, and by hurricane protection levees about 15 feet high along the remaining boundaries. The storm surge ranging from 12 to 22 feet broke three key poorly-constructed levees built by the US Army Corps of Engineers to protect the city. New Orleans averages 1.8 m (6 ft) below sea level, resembling a shallow depression surrounded by levees and water. However, the hurricane protection levees surrounding the city were designed to protect the city only from a category slow 2 or fast category 3 hurricane. Thus for any slow category 3, or category 4 or 5 hurricanes, the real possibility exists for flooding the metropolitan area of New Orleans. The city was inundated by flooding, devastated and became virtually deserted; eventually, at least 80 per cent of the city was under water. Within the first day, more than half a million people were uprooted, making it the largest displacement of human beings in US history since the 1930s dust bowl migration. Yet of the 460,000 of New Orleans proper, where one in four people lived under the official poverty line, from 100,000 to 120,000 people were unable or unwilling to evacuate. Flooding devastated St. Bernard Parish, to the southeast of the city; a year after the storm, the parish’s population had dwindled from more than 65,000 residents to only 25,000. Some 1,839 innocent people lost their lives, most of whom drowned – mainly in the ensuing days and weeks – and left more than 700 missing. Unknown numbers of people died since. At an estimated $125 billion, damage from the storm made it the costliest natural disaster in US history. Some 300,000 homes were destroyed completely or made unliveable. It was 43 days before those flood waters receded. Some 80 per cent of the loss of lives in Louisiana took place in the metropolitan area of New Orleans. Many people, about 200,000, did not have automobiles or access to an automobile. There were an additional 20,000 special needs people who could not be easily moved. Older adults were the most vulnerable. The death toll was highly attributable to the many older adults who succumbed to the impacts of the hurricane. It was noted that 73 per cent of the total deaths consisted of the elderly aged above 60 years even though the elderly comprised only 15 per cent of the total population (Gibson & Hayunga, 2006). Such a disproportionately high number is a clear indication that seniors were at risk of death and other forms of harm during the hurricane. African-Americans died in numbers that exceeded their proportion of the population (Sharkey, 2007) and were the residents who suffered the most from displacement and inability to return to the city. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2004 New Orleans population to be 20.0 per cent white and 67.9 per cent black. The social disaster was man-made. It was the 11th named storm of the turbulent 2005 hurricane season, following the worst-ever 2004 season in decades, and its most deadly and destructive. The abject indifference if not refusal of federal, state, and local governments to implement existing disaster plans, either to prepare for the storm or to meet the challenges of its aftermath caused national outrage. A crime against humanity cannot be attributed to “failure of leadership” or “lack of co-ordination.” Just a year earlier, government agencies had swiftly responded to previous hurricanes in Florida where there were minimal casualties. The hurricane and its ultimate landfalls was one of the most accurately-tracked in history and its devastating consequences one of the most foreknown. Whether the response of the Bush administration was premeditated, cynically indifferent or incompetent, facts are stubborn things. What virtually everyone has overlooked is that it was the US Navy – part of the Pentagon’s NORTHCOM (which also includes Canada, Mexico and a swath of the Caribbean Sea as part of its “homeland”) – which ordered an evacuation of its own military forces and naval ships out of and away from the very same southern Gulf states on Thursday, 25 August 2005, four days before Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall. The US Navy left behind a skeleton force at six military bases in the region. In a variant of the scorched earth policy, local US naval spokesmen made clear, as quoted in and reported by the Army Times, that they had no plans to assist the American people during the impending catastrophe. Naval personnel who actually did so were disciplined and punished by base commanders. Prior to the storm, state and local agencies simply did not or refused to implement existing evacuation plans. [1]
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City buses were not used to evacuate citizens.

The stunning loss of life was exacerbated by the number of homeless and stranded residents in and around New Orleans. As search and rescue efforts were hampered by the frustration of intergovernmental and interagency clashes of the authority, many victims made their way to Interstate 10 to avoid flood waters or to the New Orleans Superdome and the Convention Center, which served as makeshift shelters that had no facilities to house tens of thousands of victims. Between 30,000 and 60,000 persons sought refuge in the Superdome, and as many as 25,000 ended up in the Convention Center, both facilities without power, water, air conditioning, and sanitary facilities. The fact that these numbers are so inexact speaks volumes to official negligence which was criminal. Rumours soon began to be circulated that nameless horrors were taking place in both facilities. These rumours were quickly orchestrated and broadcast throughout the USA and abroad by the monopoly media and so became a matter of official truth. There were reports of murders in the hundreds, rapes and assaults of other kinds in the thousands, and acts of larceny in the hundreds of thousands. Most of these rumours, as it turned out later, had no basis in fact but there can be no question that they contributed to orchestrating a climate to justify local police terror and the militarization of the city and life by the U.S. executive and military power. (Lori Peek and Kai Erickson, Hurricane Katrina, Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology) The American people paid the disastrous price with their lives, the lives of their families, their dignity and meagre possessions. FEMA/Homeland Security and other government agencies had refused to organize an evacuation of New Orleans by providing public transportation and accommodation. FEMA effectively denied city requests for buses for two days before sending a handful. Most of the buses were then under water and unusable until repaired. Eyewitness reports said the private for-profit monopolies that controlled thousands of buses in the city locked them in compounds to prevent them from being used by desperate evacuees. Blame for the relief effort was directed on individuals and absolved the state: at New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Michael D. Brown. In turn, Nagin, who was criticized for waiting too long to order a mandatory evacuation of the city before the storm hit, was visibly angry at press conferences after the storm, blaming Governor Blanco and President Bush for failing to send adequate resources to the city. Blanco was in turn criticized for turning attention to issues of law and order, instead of focusing on rescue efforts. The rule of law was suspended, the human factor was repressed, and military and other agendas were being implemented. The victim was made into a criminal, debased, humiliated. Disinformation about “looting”, chaos and anarchy allegedly unleashed by the people of New Orleans was then counterposed by the media to the bringing of “order” by the US military, the scenario of Donald Trump today. The United States, at all levels of the state, abdicated its social responsibility and duty to its citizens and society. This was a crime against humanity by all norms of international law and morality.

Federalized military rule of the US failed state

A convoy of military vehicles crosses floodwaters on Interstate 10 to move Texas Air National Security Forces from Francis Gaudet Elementary School to Loyola University in New Orleans of September 11, 2005. DoD units were mobilized as part of the federal Joint Task Force Katrina | DoD photo

A SWAT team drives past flood victims waiting at the Convention Center on September 1 | AP

Since the Truman Doctrine of March 1947 and the Marshall Plan of July 1947, the United States has sought to legalize its violation of the principle adopted by the United Nations on 11 December 1946 which stated, amongst other things, “that at no time should assistance to other countries be used as a political weapon.” It used economic resources distributed as humanitarian and disaster relief as an instrument of political pressure, a weapon against rival centres of power, securing the hegemony of the largest US monopolies to transform all social, civil and political affairs into military matters. All the humanitarian reasons were brought forward and the philanthropy and generosity of the USA played up for all they are worth. Katrina revealed this duplicity for the world to see. The government of George W. Bush exploited Katrina to impose federalized military rule – not abroad, but at home. On June 30, 2005 the Department of Defense (DoD) had issued the latest in its “Defense Strategy” guidelines, this one addressed primarily to the role of the military inside the country. Titled Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support (SHDCS), the document represented, as the forward by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England put it, “the next significant milestone in reshaping the Department’s approach to homeland defense. Building upon the concept of an active, layered defense outlined in the National Defense Strategy, the Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support constitutes the Department’s vision for transforming homeland defense and civil support capabilities. It will fundamentally change the Department’s approach to homeland defense in an historic and important way.” (Forward to SHDCS) England described establishment of the military’s Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in 2002, as the “first important step.” NORTHCOM was established specifically for commanding troops inside the country and to further US attempts to subordinate Canada and Mexico’s military forces to US command and establish a single “North American Security Perimeter.” The SHDCS was the “next milestone.” It served to both justify and finalize elimination of arrangements where the military is subordinate to civil authority, including Congress and the Courts, and where the military was largely blocked from law enforcement inside the country. The Strategy elaborated the practical measures needed to insure civilians, private enterprise, transportation and communication, medical personnel and facilities, exist to support the military in its “war-fighting” capacity. The SHDCS tried to justify military intervention inside the country by saying there is a difference between “homeland security” and “homeland defense.” It further elaborated the main content of all the Pentagon strategies of “pre-emptive” war throughout the “global commons,” including space and all air and seaways. It gave particular focus to control of “maritime approaches,” including the seacoasts of Canada and Mexico. It also provided greater specifics on how the military would intervene inside the US and subordinate civilians, including medical personnel and other first responders to the needs of the military. To force all to submit, it emphasizes the need to provide “shared situational awareness” of “threats.” With the lies and manipulation used to justify the Iraq war, the world was already witness to just how the US would create and impose this “shared awareness.”

For a discussion, see “Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support: Placing the military at the center and eliminating the body politic,” Voice of Revolution, August 7, 2005

As a reminder, at the time the image of the US armed forces was in widespread disrepute. Reflecting the growing and determined opposition to imperialist war against Iraq, more and more American youth were refusing intense efforts by the armed forces to recruit the youth. As a result, the U.S. Army had fallen 8 per cent (7,000 recruits) short of its recruitment goal. It had not fallen so short of its annual goal since 1979, several years after the Vietnam War. The part-time Army Reserve and Army National Guard did even worse. This was despite the fact that the Army had lowered standards for enlistment, lowered enlistment quotas, and tried shorter enlistment options.
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A FEMA detention camp.

Using the military and manufactured hysteria about “looting”, the government agencies blocked efforts by the American people to lend a hand. African Americans taking supplies from the stores to survive were denounced as “looters” by the mass media of the failed state with many arrested or shot. The image of chaos, looting and anarchy presented by the monopoly media as unleashed by the masses was counterposed by the bringing of “law and order” by the US military. Under President Bush’s executive rule, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of Northcom took control of the institution responsible for civil defence against natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Its director Michael D. Brown, whom President Bush publicly praised for “doing a heck of a job” was relieved of his duties on September 9, 10 days into the relief effort, after charges of incompetence were levelled against him. Michael Chertoff, head of DHS, handpicked Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen, the U.S. Coast Guard Chief of Staff, to be in charge of all military and civilian recovery. Allen had worked with Department of Homeland Security since 9/11. CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, affirmed that the appointment of the Admiral would mean a “seamless interface” between the relief effort and the military. The government submerged civil defence preparations into the US failed state’s war on terror. 2005.09.08.Katrina.CaughtEscapingNOWashington deployed nearly 46,000 US military personnel in the disaster area – including heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security monopoly – four days after Katrina hit. It transformed a major American city into a war zone under federal military occupation with a “shoot to kill” policy. New Orleans was placed under control of Homeland Security and US Northern Command (Northcom). In parallel, it activated the Canadian and Mexican armed forces through the recently-created bi-national planning group established by the Bush and Martin governments in 2004. [3] The terms of the agreement provide for armed forces to operate in each other’s countries in the event of natural disasters. In an attempt to hide the reality in New Orleans, the press was denied access to the devastated region, but without great success. Meanwhile, The Chicago Tribune reported on August 30 and again on September 5 that the USS Bataan, a large amphibious assault ship which had recently completed the Panamax military exercise near the Panama Canal, now positioned close to New Orleans, is “underused and waiting for a larger role in the effort,” with its 600 beds and six medical operating rooms empty. The Tribune noted that the ship’s 1,200 sailors had not been asked to join the relief effort. In the space of just a few weeks, the White House several times used the government-organized disaster to call for an increased role for the military inside the country. Having failed to force local governors to invoke the civil war-era Insurrection Act, US president George W Bush in his nationally-televised address from unscathed Jackson Square on 15 September 2005 – illuminated by warm tungsten lights and generators flown into New Orleans by the White House to create the necessary effects – then openly and ominously declared

“It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces – the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment’s notice.” (Speech, September 16, New Orleans, Louisiana).

According to a US Defense Dept. spokesman, cited by Associated Press on 17 September 2005, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “is reviewing a wide range of possible changes in the way the military could be used in domestic emergencies.” The “order” being pushed was federalized military rule in humanitarian clothes. Bush called for the military to be in charge of public health and public disaster relief. This served to eliminate both of these areas as public services, along with their civilian governmental agencies at all levels, and turn them instead into areas for military dictate and control. The public is no longer to be the public, but rather refugees, or individuals under quarantine, or “threats to national security.” This included potential military enforced quarantines, as Bush suggested, for any variety of reasons, including “threats” of biological weapons as well as influenza. In response to a clearly planted question and response concerning the possibility of a bird-flu pandemic, Bush later said,

“If we had an outbreak somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country?…And who best to be able to affect a quarantine? One option is the use of a military that’s able to plan and move…I think the president ought to have all assets on the table to be able to deal with something this significant.” (Press Conference, October 4, 2005)

Coupled with these calls for military control was the general discrediting of local and state and even federal officials, described as “overwhelmed” with the situation, and the promotion of the military as the force “most capable” of quarantine, or disaster relief, or terrorist threats. This was further evidenced in Bush’s call for adding $6 billion in the Department of Defense (DoD) appropriations bill, likely to be more than $440 billion at the time, for vaccines and related research. Normally this would be a matter for the public health departments, not DoD. The US Senate approved $4.9 billion for “pandemic influenza preparedness” in the Pentagon bill.

A bridge too far

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People managed to take command of some buses.

2005.09.06.NY.youth On the ground, thousands of volunteer forces were organized by the people themselves, bringing to bear all their organizing experience of the many struggles for rights and against imperialist war. In contrast, it was reported at the time that the military-police power:

“They refused to allow aid trucks to enter New Orleans. They essentially quarantined medical personal at the airport and turned away thousands of healthcare professionals, both before the hurricane hit and after. A group of African American healthcare workers, along with much needed medicine, were turned away from the Algiers community, which was not demolished by the storm. Funds, fuel and equipment offered by many other countries, such as Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama — all refused.” [4]

On August 29, four days after the hurricane hit, armed police from the town of Gretna, wielding what one lady  said were “huge guns like they have in Iraq,” blocked a massive bridge leading out of New Orleans.

“Around 500 people stuck in downtown New Orleans after the storm banded together for self-preservation, making sure the oldest and youngest among them were taken care of before looking after their own needs.

“Running out of food and water, they walked to the bridge, growing in number to around 800 people as word spread of a safe way out…” The bridge led to the other side of the Mississippi River known locally as the West Bank.

“As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads.”

The police and city executive of Gretna, a town of of 17,423 which had not flooded, generated community hysteria about blocking an “invasion,” “looting” and “violence” to justify this barbarous and inhumane repression when, in fact, people were simply trying to escape to the West Bank of the Mississippi. Two paramedics from San Francisco, Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky, wrote an essay about their experience: “They told us that there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words that if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River – and you weren’t getting out of New Orleans.’” They were not vectors, they were human beings with rights. Nevertheless, medics trained for political demonstrations headed to New Orleans and the surrounding communities. Food Not Bombs, well known for feeding demonstrators and communities, set up kitchens in the region and trained local people to do the same. The many military families and others involved in the Crawford Camp Casey protesting at Bush’s ranch in Texas sent supplies, including a bus equipped with satellite for communications and medicine, and set up a new Camp Casey in Covington, Louisiana. They exemplified the social conscience of the American people. New Orleans.Casualty of Bush War The activation of NATO and the “free world” The activation of NATO, the militarization of humanitarian relief and aid, and the aims of Washington are little discussed in the narratives on Katrina. These aims were of a military, economic and political character.
In parallel, on the international plane the United States on 4 September activated the NATO military bloc – not the United Nations let alone the Organization of American States. The US officially requested the EU to provide emergency assistance in the form of first aid kits, blankets, water trucks, and prepared meals, as the USA was lacking in these. Items beyond the request were offered; for example, baby food from Italy and divers from Belgium. The US asked NATO to transport the EU aid using the new NATO Response Force. This maneouvre was not without precedent: immediately following 9/11, Bush had ostentatiously invoked Article 5 of the NATO treaty for the only time in the history of the bloc and had used NORAD to exercise command over Canadian air space. On September 8, 2015 the North Atlantic Council authorised a transport operation consisting of NATO’s Airborne Early Warning fleet training and cargo aircraft and NATO Response Force (NRF) air and sealift to help move urgently needed items from Europe to the United States. NATO organized a series of flights from September 12 to October  2 to air lift supplies selected by the US from lists provided by 27 mainly European countries, as well as the Russian Federation and Canada. The operation in Europe was co-ordinated by NATO’s newly-formed Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC). Supplies were centralized at AFB Ramstein in Germany by Lisbon Command and transported to the Little Rock Air Force Base in Arizona. Even though the US possesses the largest air force in the world, NATO sent 12 cargo flights using French, German, Greek and Italian C-130 and C-160 tactical NRF-assigned transport aircraft, which ferried some 189 tons of relief supplies from Europe to the United States via the NATO air-bridge: food, first-aid kits, medical supplies, generators and water pumps. (To give some perspective, that is equivalent to less than the capacity of two Antonov 225 aircraft which can transport 100 tons each.) The first NATO cargo flight did not depart until September 11– from the Czech Republic with 390 camp beds and 14 large tents – over two weeks after Katrina hit. Washington covertly used the disaster to push a geopolitical strategic agenda. It is worth recalling how Bush was politically defeated following the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2014. At the time, the US administration tried to float a unilateral naval force under its command outside of the United Nations to be composed of warships from the US, Japan and Australia as its spear head for “humanitarian intervention”. This was subject to universal condemnation: the focus of the task force was to be the Straits of Malacca, a strategic maritime trade route connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans, China and West Asia. As far west as Sri Lanka, US naval forces were pre-empted from seizing the coveted harbour of Trincolomee on the northeastern coast by Indian forces; instead the marines and World Vision missionaries descended on Galle on the southwestern coast, a tourist centre. Canadian Forces were deployed by the Canadian Martin government in the area of Hambotana in the southeast where SNC Lavalin, a contributor of $100,000 to Martin’s recent leadership campaign, was bidding to build a new port. In Washington, influential ruling circles were advocating that NATO be transformed from a transatlantic pact to become “a global alliance of free nations” – either by formal enlargement of the alliance or by creating a new “Alliance of Democracies.” The aim was to use a natural disaster to supplant the UN – specifically, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [UN OCHA] – in the sphere of disaster relief, to reduce the UN into an adjunct of NATO, to marginalize the Rapid Response force set up by the European Union in 2004, to justify a 21st century “Global Nato” war alliance – and combat the medical internationalism and co-operation amongst the community of nations personified by Cuba and other peace-loving countries. [] The US failed state blocked access to, stole or squandered the economic resources offered by foreign governments. On April 29, 2007 the Washington Post reported, based on more than 10,000 of cables, telegraphs and e-mails – – released piecemeal under the Freedom of Information Act to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – that “presidential confidante Karen Hughes [had] sent a cable from her State Department office to U.S. ambassadors worldwide. (Solomon, John; Spencer S. Hsu (2007). “Most Katrina Aid from Overseas Went Unclaimed” (News Article). Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-04-29.)

“Titled ‘Echo-Chamber Message’ – a public relations term for talking points designed to be repeated again and again – the Sept. 7, 2005, directive was unmistakable: Assure the scores of countries that had pledged or donated aid at the height of the disaster that their largesse had provided Americans ‘practical help and moral support’ and ‘highlight the concrete benefits hurricane victims are receiving.’

“Many of the U.S. diplomats who received the message, however, were beginning to witness a more embarrassing reality. They knew the U.S. government was turning down many allies’ offers of manpower, supplies and expertise worth untold millions of dollars. Eventually the United States also would fail to collect most of the unprecedented outpouring of international cash assistance for Katrina’s victims.

“Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction [less than 5 per cent or about 10 cents per capita – the population of the USA in 2005 was 295.5 million – emphasis added – ed.], according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

“In addition, valuable supplies and services – such as cellphone systems, medicine and cruise ships – were delayed or declined because the government could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.”

Shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies from Italy spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina’s landfall, and were destroyed. “Tell them we blew it,” one State Department official wrote. But she hedged: “The flip side is just to dispose of it and not come clean. I could be persuaded.” “Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups.” No mention in the article is made of NATO. Those countries offering aid included Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, Russia, China and the Palestinian Authority, all of whom had been targeted by the reactionary Bush “war on terror.” For its part, Venezuela offered two mobile hospital units with a capacity of 150 people each at a time, aid workers – 120 specialists in First Aid and search and rescue from the Simon Bolivar Humanitarian Response Team, an internationally recognized disaster relief unit; ten water purification stations; eight electric generators, each with a capacity of 850 kilowatts; 20 tons of drinking water; 50 tons of canned food; and 5,000 blankets. [2] Cuba offered 1,586 trained, equipped and totally self-sufficient medical personnel and several tonnes of medical supplies. Doctors assembled at the airport in Havana, waiting for the word. Cuba claimed that this offer was the second one made because the first offer of assistance had been made secretly and US officials requested that this offer not be publicized. On 1 September 2005, Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro held a minute’s silence in parliament for Hurricane Katrina’s victims. The Cuban parliament then passed a resolution condemning President Bush and the US government on various issues. [2b] When it comes to preventing the death of human beings, the governments and people of Venezuela and Cuba do not look at the religion of their patients, whether black, white or Indian, or whether they are enemies or friends. They put lives, not profits, first. The principle is human solidarity: as human beings we should support one another when we are in need, not on ulterior motives. Health as a human right belongs to all peoples by dint of their being human. The United States rejected these noble, concrete gestures. It refused to allow the aid, doctors and nurses in. It never formally replied to the offer by the two smaller countries.

The Venezuelan initiative

While one president played golf [5] – two other presidents acted in a genuine attempt to assist the American people.
MARCELO GARCIA/AFP Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez | Marcelo Garcis/AFP

As of September 2, Venezuela had received no official response from the United States. Hugo Chávez, then president (pictured), criticized the US government for not acting on the offer of aid, and accused it of not having evacuated the people in the face of “an announced tragedy.” “That government had no evacuation plan … it is incredible, the first power in the world … that is so involved in Iraq … and it left its own population adrift!,” he said. Nevertheless, on September 4, President Chávez additionally ordered the shipment of one million barrels of gasoline as aid. At the time, 79 per cent of normal US oil production in the Gulf of Mexico was curtailed. He also generously raised the humanitarian aid his country had offered to the US government to $5 million, a sum outmatched by just one  country. Chávez made the decision after consulting by telephone with Félix Rodríguez, the president of CITGO, a subsidiary in the United States of the state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), which the Trump administration is now trying to illegally steal. The South American leader pointed out that the donation in cash should be used to lease a field hospital and thus serve the thousands of victims. Likewise, it should be used for the purchase of water and other supplies. CITGO itself had already opened a shelter for victims of the hurricane in Corpus Christi, Texas, which assisted 2,500 victims. Rodríguez presented the local chapter of the American Red Cross, in charge of operations at a shelter in Lake Charles, Louisiana, with a separate $25,000 donation to assist it in its efforts at the centre. A group of volunteers from the nearby CITGO Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex, known as Team CITGO, helped in the relief efforts. “CITGO is a Venezuelan company and President Chávez told us that we should speak with one voice during this lamentable tragedy that is affecting the people in the US South,” added Rodriguez. According to The Washington Times, a senior State Department official blandly pretended that he was not even aware of the Venezuelan offer, but noted that unsolicited offers can be “counterproductive.” The wolves pretended to be offended and acted the part of the innocents. US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega in an interview with Voice of America (VOA) cynically declared, “I think it’s in part a public relations effort on his part.” [6] The Cuban initiative Take the offer of aid from Cuba. Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita in the world and three times that of the US and Canada on a per capita basis. Cuba has 8.2 doctors per 1,00 people while the United States has 2.6 doctors per 1,000. At the time 12,000 young people from around the world, chiefly from Latin America and the Caribbean but also the United States, were studying medicine in Cuba completely free of charge. Some 20,000 Cuban doctors were assisting in dozens of developing nations. It has prioritized disaster relief as a matter of national policy and is an international model for disaster recovery. Its medical team is ready to be flown to wherever they are needed in the hurricane-devastated Caribbean. Katrina had scarred the Pinar del Río to Matanzas province in the northern coast of Cuba itself on the morning of August 24. But as news reached Havana on August 29 of the severity of the assault on New Orleans, Juan Carrizo, dean of the Latin American Medical School (Elam) began mobilizing specialists to assist the thousands of Americans affected by the disaster. Within three days, he had assembled 1,097 doctors, nurses and technicians, and 24 tonnes of medicine, all ready to fly to ­Louisiana. [7]
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Cuban doctors packing medical supplies | NBC

The physicians were equipped with two 25-kilogram first aid kits (55 pounds each) with medications and essential instruments. The 1,097-member team included 351 general doctors specialized in intensive care, 72 with more than one specialty and 66 who specialized in cardiology, pediatrics, surgery and gastroenterology. The members of the medical mission had an average of 10 years of professional experience and 32 years of age. In all, they would have been carrying 36 tons of medicine and equipment to do their humanitarian job in the most difficult of conditions. In a speech he made later that month, Fidel Castro, president of Cuba, said: “Our country was closest to the area hit by the hurricane and was in the position to send over human and material aid in a matter of hours. It was as if a big American cruise ship with thousands of passengers aboard were sinking in waters close to our coast. We could not remain indifferent.” Associated Press reported, “[Fidel] Castro said the first offer of Cuban doctors for hurricane relief efforts was made during a meeting with Cuban foreign ministry and US officials in Havana on Tuesday [i.e., August 30 at 12:45 p.m.], days before the extent of the hurricane’s catastrophic damage was known. At the time, US officials had asked Cuban authorities not to publicize their offer of aid, said Castro.” [8] (Meanwhile, in contrast, although Canadians instantly responded, the Government of Canada did not send militarized aid until September 6th.) “Cuba is ready to help immediately, we offer concrete things, doctors at the scene of the tragedy, which is precisely what is currently missing,” he said. The proposal was part of “a real spirit of cooperation,” he stressed, and his government would cover all the costs of sending these doctors. “It is a sincere gesture, of peace, which is not accompanied by any condition,” said the Cuban leader, referring to the economic blockade of Cuba, an act of war and collective punishment that had been applied by the United States for four decades. “We are absolutely opposed to any confrontation with the United States and their government, we do not ask for anything. We do not follow the kind of politics they practice,” added Fidel Castro. “We discussed this issue publicly,” he later explained, only “because on the long list of countries that offered help, the name of Cuba was omitted, which confused and even startled many friends of our country around the world.” The first hospital in New Orleans was evacuated at 11:01 a.m. that same day, August 30th. The flooding threatened hospitals holding patients whose lives were dependent on electrical generators, which would fail if the water rose much further. Officials warned of an infestation of fire ants and poisonous water snakes. Pathologies transmitted by mosquitos, such as Nile and Dengue fevers and some forms of encephalitis, could surface within days, and leptospirosis, which is contracted through water contaminated by animal urine, was another risk. On Thursday, September 1, Cuba’s National Assembly sent a message of solidarity to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It said the Cuban people had followed closely the news of the hurricane damage in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and the news had caused pain and sadness. The message noted that the hardest hit were African-Americans, Latino workers, and the poor, who were still waiting to be rescued and taken to secure places, and who had suffered the most fatalities and homelessness. The message concluded by saying that the entire world must feel this tragedy as its own.

A single tank truck

On September 1, as 80,000 people were believed to be stranded in New Orleans, the city of Chicago made serious allegations as to the real aim of the federal response and accused it of sabotaging the despatch of humanitarian aid:

“A visibly angry Mayor [Richard] Daley [of Chicago] said the city had offered emergency, medical and technical help to the federal government as early as Sunday to assist people in the areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina, but as of Friday, the only things the feds said they wanted was a single tank truck. Daley said the city offered 36 members of the firefighters’ technical rescue teams, eight emergency medical technicians, search-and-rescue equipment, more than 100 police officers as well as police vehicles and two boats, 29 clinical and 117 non-clinical health workers, a mobile clinic and eight trained personnel, 140 Streets and Sanitation workers and 29 trucks, plus other supplies. City personnel are willing to operate self-sufficiently and would not depend on local authorities for food, water, shelter and other supplies, he said.” [9]

On September 2, John Rhinehart, the administrator of a New Orleans hospital without power and water, said: “I’m beginning to wonder if the government is more concerned about the looting than people who are dying in these hospitals.” [10] On September 2, The Washington Post reported that Mississippi’s chief needs were fuel and medical assistance. According to news reports, some of the main public health institutions in New Orleans had to be evacuated and closed as the lack of electricity, drinkable water, food and medications put the lives of many patients in danger. Fox News emphasized that New Orleans health professionals were working around the clock, without rest, to treat patients in critical condition and to prevent a catastrophe in the already overcrowded medical facilities. These health professionals had been working without rest and their strength was running out; something must be done urgently. A Louisiana Health and Hospitals Department spokesperson, Kyle Viator, declared “we have patients in dialysis, others with diabetes, people who require regular treatment and prescription drugs. Our resources are running out. At the moment, one third of the population is displaced, and this group of people includes our medical personnel.” By September 3, one third to one fourth of the 1,200,000 people left helpless in the three southern states were children, according to UNICEF.
Fidel Castro.2005.09

Cuban President Fidel Castro, September 4, 2005 | Granma

On September 4, after things had reached this point, Fidel Castro, having analyzed all the media reports, reiterated his country’s humanitarian offer. He promised “that in less than 12 hours the first 100 doctors, carrying the necessary medical resources in their backpacks, could be in Houston; that an additional 500 could be there 10 hours later and that, within the next 36 hours, 500 more, for a total of 1100, could join them to save at least one of the many lives at risk from such dramatic events. “Perhaps those unaware of our people’s sense of honour and spirit of solidarity thought this was some kind of bluff or a ridiculous exaggeration. But our country never toys with matters as serious as this, and it has never dishonoured itself with demagogy or deceit.” Seven days passed. The administration of George W. Bush had yet to even dignify the Cuban proposal – which had now swelled to more than 1,500 doctors, due to a flood of volunteers – with a reply. It did not even acknowledge it. On September 4, President Fidel Castro met with the medical team in an unannounced meeting at Havana Convention Center, broadcast on radio and TV. Cuban and US news agencies reported:

“President Fidel Castro reiterated Cuba’s disposition to help Hurricane Katrina victims in spite of Washington’s silence regarding Cuba’s aid offer. He met on Sunday evening with 1,586 doctors toting backpacks filled with medicine and essential equipment for treating people in emergency conditions like those in the region lashed by the hurricane. He noted that because of its proximity to the affected areas, it was possible for Cuba to send 1,100 doctors to save people in danger of dying, but the number of those called up had risen to 1,586.

“We will patiently wait as long as necessary,” the Cuban leader told his audience of doctors, neatly dressed in white uniforms with medical kits ready. “If no response comes or our humanitarian cooperation is not needed, we’ll not become disheartened”  Fidel Castro stressed. “On the contrary”  he continued, “we’ll feel pleased from having fulfilled our timely duty.” The Cuban president stated that in this kind of situation, it didn’t matter how rich a country might be, or the number of its scientists or technical advances. “What is required at this moment is a team of young, well-trained professionals who, with a minimum of resources, can be sent where human beings are in danger of dying.” He affirmed “that in the case of Cuba, being geographically close to the affected areas, the circumstances were appropriate for offering aid to the US people.” [11] (The full text of Fidel Castro’s speech can be read here.) As of September 5, more than 2,000 people had been evacuated from three important health centres, and several terminally ill patients died during the transfer process, but there was not yet any reliable estimate of the numbers dead from this cause. Another 10,000 people were awaiting transfer from at least nine other hospitals in the affected area. Access was difficult. Because of the lack of drinkable water and useless sewer systems in the city, the possibility of outbreaks of diarrheal and gastro enteral diseases was increasing. Laboratories were not working, so doctors and nurses had to determine the state of patients by more traditional methods. Mental health was also affected, as stress and depression are common among survivors of natural disasters. [12] On September 6, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack falsely asserted that the Cuban medical brigade would probably not be needed since there had been a “robust response from the American medical community.” He blandly stated he did not have any details on how the United States responded to Venezuela’s offer. [[13]]

Havana never may get an answer

Cuban medical personnel assembled and waiting to assist Louisiana

Cuban medical personnel assembled and waiting to assist Louisiana | Granma

Two weeks later, the Cuban medics were still standing by. The attitude towards the Cuban offer and humanitarian principles became an issue in US politics. On September 10, Representative José Serrano (D-NY) and a colleague from Arizona, Raúl Grijalva, sent a letter to the US Secretary of State urging the Administration to accept the Cuban assistance. “If you have a flood in your home and a neighbour that you don’t like offers you a pump, you don’t turn them down and let your house continue being flooded,” said Serrano. “These doctors could help people. That’s the bottom line,” he argued. “The decision to help people should not have any political calculations attached… The tragedy is that people’s lives are at stake and they cannot seem to just accept the help.” What had so far was being done secretly now had to be admitted openly. The occupants of the White House let the cat among the pigeons. On September 14, Mary Murray, a NBC News producer based in Havana, profiled the Cubaan doctors. She reported the Cold War response of the Bush administration :

“In separate Washington press briefings, both the White House and State Department spokesmen this week downplayed the Cuban government’s offer to send some 1,600 medics, field hospitals and 83 tons of medical supplies to ease the humanitarian disaster.

“White House spokesman [press secretary] Scott McClellan scorned the Cuban proposal last Thursday [i.e., September 12] when asked if the president would consider accepting the Cuban help.

“’When it comes to Cuba,‘ said McClellan, ‘we have one message for Fidel Castro: He needs to offer the people of Cuba their freedom.’

“Still, the Administration has yet to give the Cuban government a flat yes or no. In fact, Havana never may get an answer.”

The story changed from humanitarian aid was not necessary due to a “robust response from the American medical community” – NATO is never mentioned – to the depravity of venom and hatred. Like Hitler, the US imperialists covered themselves with the bogey of anti-Communism, trying to mask their rapacious plans, their war preparations, their desires for domination and enslavement of peoples. Under the anti-Communist banner they attack the elementary rights of democratic peoples, bring the national life of these countries under their domination and in turn unite world reaction around them and recruit for their policy of aggression and war all those who place themselves at their service or who are subjected by terror and force. With such slogans of the “free world” and accusing others of evil intent, the people of the Americas have repeatedly been deprived of their elementary rights and seen their best men and women murdered to make it easier to impose imperialist exploitation and domination. The stock lies and anti-communist slanders were now being applied to victims within the United States itself to justify a form of collective punishment; the people of the coastal states were suffering and dying in “freedom.” Of the 15,000 people shipped to the Houston Astrodome in Texas, the vast majority were African-American. The president’s mother, Barbara Bush, toured the Astrodome. She declared that the situation for Louisiana victims who “were underprivileged anyway” is “working very well for them.” Her husband, George Bush, had been appointed co-leader of the Bush-Clinton fund-raising campaign for hurricane victims. Mrs Bush contemptuously told a television program, American Public Media’s “Marketplace” program:

“What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is [the hurricane victims] all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this – this [she chuckles slightly] is working very well for them.”

As with reports from Reuters and some other media, NBC contested the wild claims of the White House by praising the skills and humanity of the Cuban doctors in dealing with natural disasters like the one being experienced in the Gulf States. Nor was Cuba provoked by the outrageous response. During the night of September 14, President Castro

“met again with all the members of that force, who were in the process of deepening their knowledge [e.g., studying English, local history and epidemiology], in order to inform them of the statement made by the Governor of Louisiana, which had been received in Cuba that very same day, and the message sent by Bruno Rodríguez, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the content of which I shall read out now, word for word, so that you may all know about it.

“Honorable Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Governor of the state of Louisiana.

“Madame Governor:

“We have carefully read your Executive Order No. KBB 2005-33 establishing the ‘Declaration of Public Health Emergency and Suspension of In-State Licensure for Medical Professionals and Personnel Licensed Out-of-State’, quoting that ‘… although scores of people have been rescued, there are many more persons waiting for rescue, evacuation and medical assistance, and many citizens have suffered or will suffer injury and/or illness…’. The Declaration also states that ‘…the number of medical professionals and personnel currently available to the state to respond to this emergency are insufficient and there is a need to immediately supplement their number in order to serve those affected by this disaster…’”

“I would like to communicate to you that the necessary Cuban personnel, up to 1,586 qualified and experienced physicians, carrying the appropriate medicines that the new circumstances may dictate, that was offered to the United States to assist the population and relieve the suffering of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, stands ready to fly immediately to the State of Louisiana as soon as you have the corresponding authorization from the federal authorities.

Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, a.i.”

“We prepared more than 1,500 doctors with all the necessary knowledge, equipment and supplies, who were ready to start work as soon as we entered the country,” recalls Dr Carrizo, shaking his head. “The US government didn’t accept them, and many people died who could have been saved. That was a sad day for medicine, and for American society.”

Cuba gives the answer

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President Fidel Castro addresses the medical brigade.

On September 19, 2005 Fidel Castro created the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disasters and Serious Epidemics in honour of Henry Reeve for his participation in the Cuban War of Independence. Reeve was a young American internationalist who had fought against slavery during the US Civil War. Almost crippled by the wounds sustained in the course of seven years of war, he fell in combat on August 4, 1876, near Yaguaramas, today the province of Cienfuegos. Reeve was 26 years old at the time of his death. He had served in the Cuban Army for seven years, having participated in over 400 engagements against the Spanish Army.

“We will train professionals prepared to fight against death; we will demonstrate that there is a response to many of the tragedies of the planet, that the world can and should be better; we will demonstrate the value of a conscience and ethics; and we will offer lives,” affirmed President Castro during a national graduation ceremony for the 1,905 doctors who have completed the 2004-05 course. It was also the occasion for the constitution of the Henry Reeve International Contingent of doctors. He announced that the contingent was to be made up of the medical brigade of the same name composed of 1,586 health professionals that had been originally organized on September 4 to support those affected by the Hurricane Katrina disaster; 200 graduates of the 2003-04 course; 600 sixth-year students of Medicine and 800 from the fifth year of the 2005-06 course. “The tens of thousands of specialists in General Medicine and graduates in Nursing and Health Technology who are fulfilling or have completed internationalist missions, Fidel noted, are an inexhaustible source for the Contingent, whose objective is immediate cooperation in any country hit by natural disasters (like hurricanes and floods) and specific epidemics that constitute social disasters (hemorrhagic dengue and HIV/AIDS, for example) and threaten to exterminate entire nations. “The members of this solidarity brigade, which could also include graduates from the Latin America School of Medicine, are to be especially trained with a solid body of information on epidemics and illnesses associated with disasters and must know two foreign languages.” [14] In the next 11 years, over 7,000 of its members provided aid in 19 nations (Haiti and Chile twice), treating over three and a half million people. Cuba.Henry Reeve bridge collage In 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) granted the Doctor Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health to the Cuban Henry Reeve Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics. “The recognition is an acknowledgement to the work of solidarity Cuba does in many countries through its health professionals.” [15] Neither Cuba nor Venezuela has ever used humanitarian assistance to bring about regime change.

***

Levelling the playing field

In December 2005, the Bush regime tried to block Cuba’s participation in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, organized by Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Players’ Association. Baseball had been removed from the Olympics after the MLB cartel refused to modernize its drug testing protocols or to send its best players to the Olympics. To tilt the playing field in its favour, it dictated some bizarre rules for the new competition affecting player selection, pitching and umpiring, which were protested by Japan and others. Meanwhile, the Bush administration incredibly claimed any proceeds paid to the Olympic Association of Cuba, at the time the reigning Olympic champion, would be tantamount to financing terrorism. It refused its team entry to the USA, a measure in violation of international sport norms on the travel of athletes. The island promptly declared in reply that it would give up any money that could be earned in the Classic: “The Cuban Baseball Federation is disposed to give the money due it in terms of its participation in the Classic to those affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans,” stated the letter signed by Carlos Rodríguez, president of the institution, on December 14, 2005. LetCubaPlayBaseball Fidel Castro stressed that Cuban athletes were not playing for money. The baseball world rebelled. Puerto Rico refused to host an opening round of games. The Bush government was forced to capitulate. To make matters worse for it, While the MLB team of millionaire professionals was eliminated in the second round, the Cuban amateurs went through to the finals in San Diego to face Japan. They spent a day in that city working with Habitat for Humanity building wooden frame homes for the survivors of Katrina. Cuba won the silver and Japan the gold in the closely-contested championship game played before a packed house in San Diego. Hundreds if not thousands of people brought Cuban flags to the match.
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Cuban hurler Yader Marti pitches in; the team worked on building a Habitat for Humanity home in San Diego for Katrina victims.

However, after the tournament, the U.S. government refused to allow the donation. MLB has never paid Cuba a cent from its participation in this or subsequent tournaments. In exchange, Bush created in 2006 the “parole program for Cuban medical professionals,” the only one of its kind in the world. It aims to destroy international cooperation with the island with countries in need, by depriving it of its human resources. This anti-Cuban plan is still in effect because of the US blockade, designed to promote by Cuban health professionals to the abandon heir missions in other countries, actively facilitating their migration through the use of US embassies that encourage them to do so. This program is just one of many attacks that Cuba is still suffering from the USA now being escalated by the Trump administration. This has become a matter of especially grave concern, although both governments recently decided to restore diplomatic relations and bilateral dialogue. Such blockades are a form of collective punishment. On January 26, 2011 the Cuban press announced approval of the first therapeutic vaccine in the world against the advanced stages of lung cancer, called CIMAVAX-EGF. In January 2013, the island announced the second cancer vaccine, known as Racotumomab. Clinical tests, carried out in 86 nations, revealed that though these vaccines do not cure the disease, they do reduce the tumours, thus improving the quality and expectancy of life of the patients. At present, Cuba exports these products to 26 countries and participates in joint ventures in China, Canada and Spain. [[16]] The American people still have not heard about it.

The alternative

Ecuadorians thank Cuba for aid

Ecuadorians thank Cuba for humanitarian aid.

The Henry Reeve Brigade has distinguished itself throughout the world for their internationalism, from the mountains of Pakistan wracked by an earthquake on October 8, 2005 that left more than 73 000 people dead, 70 000 injured and some four million homeless (in which the war bloc, occupying Afghanistan, also organized an air-bridge), to the Ebola epidemic in Africa. Such missions not only assist the people at a time of great need, but underscores the magnitude of their generosity and national altruism. The dignity and social conscience displayed by the Venezuelan and Cuban government and peoples are a bulwark against the arms of imperialism and its empty professions of humanitarianism. The current US President Trump let thousands die in Puerto Rico, put small children in cages on the Mexican border and has presided over the deaths of over 170,000 people from Covid-19. The deeds of the Venezuelans and Cubans demonstrate the alternatives which permit people to realize their deepest aspirations when they are empowering themselves. Another better world is possible. The reality that it is the people themselves, here and worldwide, who are and will bring this change about has never been clearer.

Notes

[1] http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2005/dis/al122005.discus.001.shtml? [2] The text of the Diplomatic Note from Venezuela read as follows:

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs extends its greetings to the Honorable Embassy of the United States of America in the opportunity to express its deepest condolences for the disaster resulting from Hurricane Katrina, that which has affected vast regions of the southern United States, notably the states of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, and caused a terrible loss of human life and incalculable material damages.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to express to the Honorable Embassy of the United States its deepest feelings of solidarity with the families of the victims, who during these difficult times face a difficult situation and the loss of loved ones and possessions. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela would like to reiterate the offer made by President Hugo Chavez Frias of fuel and humanitarian aid to help alleviate the consequences of this disaster, especially during a time when the crisis is aggravated by damages to oil installations in the Gulf of Mexico and the southern United States.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to communicate to the Honorable Embassy of the United States that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has offered the Governor of the State of Louisiana, Ms. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, immediate aid of $1 million; 120 specialists in First Aid and search and rescue, part of the “Simon Bolivar” Humanitarian Response Team, an internationally recognized disaster relief unit; two mobile hospitals with a capacity of 150 people each at a time; ten water purification stations; eight electric generators, each with a capacity of 850 kilowatts; 20 tons of drinking water; 50 tons of canned food; and 5,000 blankets. The offer will be made available in immediate fashion, should the Government of the United States choose to accept it, through the CITGO Corporation.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes the opportunity to reiterate to the Honorable Embassy of the United States of America its considerations of the highest esteem and regard.”

“Venezuela formalizes offer of fuel and humanitarian aid for the United States,” VHeadline.com, September 2, 2005.

[2b] Iran offered 20 million barrels of crude oil and assistance for the rescue efforts. Russia offered medical supplies, rescue teams, helicopters, food, tents, blankets, drinking water and portable electricity generators. China offered USD 5 million in aid, rescue workers, and medical experts. Russia’s initial offer to send at least two jets was declined by the U.S. State Department. France, whose initial offer of concrete help was also declined [3] “Neighbours helping neighbours” This is a sort of disinformation that became a daily mantra of the media, in which militarized aid by the Canadian state is put on the same plane as the selfless voluntarism and solidarity of the Canadian people. As the news sank in of the disaster, the people of Canada immediately responded:
  • First responders from Vancouver flew to New Orleans, participating in search and rescue operations in the flooded city;
  • Ontario Hydro, Hydro-Québec, and Manitoba Hydro, along with other electrical utilities, sent repair crews to assist in restoring electrical power service;
  • Contributions poured into the Canadian Red Cross;
  • One thousand and two hundred evacuees were given shelter in Canada; and
  • Universities across Canada offered to take in university students from New Orleans whose studies have been interrupted. Some institutions went so far as to offer full tuition scholarships and free room and board.
In this situation Canadians gave expression to the notion that we are one humanity fighting for the rights of all, in this case the right to live, to shelter and health care, and the right to return. KATRINA INTERNATIONAL AIDAs part of the NATO and NORTHCOM militarized aid under Homeland Security and arrangements already put into place never discussed by the Canadian people, the US immediately involved as mentioned above the two annexed armed forces of Mexico and Canada in codename Operation Unison. It was not until September 6 that the Canadian government deployed a task force comprising three warships – HMCS Athabaskan (a command and control ship) and the frigates HMCS Toronto and HMCS Ville de Québec – along with the Coast Guard vessel CCGS Sir William Alexander, three Sea King helicopters and one BO-105 helicopter to the area. They carried as many as 1,000 Canadian Forces personnel. They were dispatched from Halifax in a nationally televised ceremony on September 6 attended by Prime Minister Paul Martin, whose family owned a major shipping monopoly (the 32-ocean-going Canada Shipping Lines), and U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins. The Halifax media featured daily reports on “Canada’s mission of mercy.” Pious invocation of high moral purpose and selflessness was the norm. As NATO documents evidence, this deployment was not merely a bilateral initiative but also part of the NATO intervention. The NATO Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) issued daily situation reports. EADRCC SITUATION REPORT Nº 9 HURRICANE KATRINA – USA issued on September 13, clearly specifies the Canadian contribution, which included items already deployed:

4.5 Canada

4.5.1 Blankets each 31.400

4.5.2 Cots each 20.000

4.5.3 Gloves, rescue, examination etc. each 26.000

4.5.4 Towel, cloth each 3.480 4.5.5 Gown, isolation each 5.000

4.5.6 Div. medical equipment and supplies

4.5.7 Clearance diver 35

4.5.8 Search and rescue team (32 persons) team 1

4.5.9 Helicopters 2

4.5.10 3 Navy warships + Coast Guard ship will depart 6 September for the stricken area

Among other tasks, Maritime Command was assigned the job of replacing damaged buoys in the shipping lanes in the Gulf of Mexico leading to the Port of Southern Louisiana. The geostrategic importance and position of this port is explained in an ABCNews  report on August 29:

“The Port of Southern Louisiana is the largest in America and the fifth-largest in the world – only Singapore, Rotterdam, Shanghai and Hong Kong are bigger. By tonnage, fully a quarter of America’s exports pass right through the disaster zone. ‘It’s a little-appreciated fact that New Orleans is one of the most strategic cities in the United States,’ said George Friedman, chairman of Stratfor, Inc., a firm that provides economic and intelligence analysis to private companies.”

It is  the terminus of a lucrative Canadian National (CN) rail line (National-Illinois Central Railroad) which runs along the Mississippi River transportation corridor north to Chicago and which then interlinks to the Detroit-Windsor border crossing and Central Canada. CN had a train in New Orleans during the hurricane, but at no time offered assistance to the evacuation from the city, nor did AMTRAK. Amtrak shut down “at least 24 hours” before Katrina – when the floodgates were put in place, trains couldn’t get into the city. As well there were about 9,000 active railroad workers residing in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who could have been mobilized to take over and run the trains. Air Canada and other airlines also cancelled service before the hurrican because they would lose money without any passengers coming in, Gov. Blanco stated, even though the airline companies could have sent planes to evacuate people for another 24 hours. There are normally some 300 flights a day to or from the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, nine miles west of the city. There are several other smaller airports, and a heliport located on the roof of the Superdome. There are four U.S. Air Force bases in the area, all of which are utilized after Katrina by Northcom as “federal operational staging areas.” All in all, the US Navy assembled a fleet of some 35 ships. A team of Canadian Forces divers was flown on September 5 to Pensacola, Fla., to work from the huge navy ship USS Grapple. Another team of Navy divers from the West Coast base of CFB Esquimalt were flown the same day in two Hercules aircraft and assigned to the San Antonio, an amphibious transport ship that served as a fixed staging area. The Canadian Forces also provided several Griffon helicopters and crews to the New England States at the request of the United States Coast Guard, whose search and rescue helicopters from that area had been assigned to Gulf Coast SAR operations. It is revealing that

(1) A team of 15 Canadian Forces medical personnel (physicians, nurses, mental health specialists and a social worker) was only sent on September 11 from CFB Greenwood, NS, almost two weeks after Katrina hit; and

(2) Canada did not deploy its militarized, much advertised Disaster Assistance Relief Team (DART). In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Martin Liberal government had sent the DART to Amparai on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami. That location was a contested area. More significantly, SNC-Lavalin, a major donor to the leadership campaign of Paul Martin – as mentioned, his family owned Canadian  Shipping Lines – was bidding for a major contract to build a new mega, international deep-water sea port in Hambotana astride critical commercial and military sea lanes, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes  – an initiative which could only have been in the service of US geostrategic aims in the Indian Ocean. SNC Lavalin, which had done the feasibility study to justify the project, faced with charges of corruption from the Asia Development Bank, was forced to step aside; the contract went to the China Harbour company, which finished the building of the port in 2010.

On the other hand reports emerged that the donation of aid was a vector for the enrichment of private monopolies and promotion of economic integration. The Washington Post reported that the Martin Liberals were using humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip for sordid material gain: “The Canadian government, sending quick offers of oil, warships, airplanes and other humanitarian aid to the United States to deal with Hurricane Katrina, hopes those measures will help improve testy relations and remind Americans that Canada is their main supplier of oil.”* A related consideration was the ongoing softwood lumber dispute; the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands of Louisiana created a new market for Canadian lumber. Canadian aircraft were deployed as part of NATO and/or a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) military assistance pact, according to Wikipedia. *Doug Struck, “Help from the North: Canada Hopes Aid Will Ease Tensions,” Washington Post, Wednesday, September 7, 2005; Page A16. See also: http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Canadian_response_to_Hurricane_Katrina [ ] The protection of health is a stated purpose of the United Nations Charter and all member countries are required to take actions that promote health. The UN was founded on the basis of defending international peace after World War II by upholding the sovereignty and equality of all nations and providing the mechanisms to work out differences based on diplomatic means. NATO, for its part, was founded for the express purpose of undermining the UN and imposing a Cold War ideology on international relations to advance Anglo-American imperialist aims. NATO has nothing in common with the protection of health. The idea that NATO was organizing such a humanitarian mission à la Florence Nightingale is  laughable. The genesis of this plan was the Clinton Administration’s Community of Democracies launched in Warsaw, Poland, in June 2000. This initiative was part of the new humanitarian doctrine adopted by NATO at its Washington Summit in 1999 to justify the war of aggression against Yugoslavia, also known as “responsibility to protect.” During the ensuing period US Ambassadors to NATO such as Kurt Volker and later Ivo Daalder (representing Obama) openly called for supplanting the community of nations with its self-styled “community of democracies” – also termed “Alliance of Democracies” – an “international community” based on U.S. imperialist-style democracy and U.S. dictate, in which such countries of Cuba and Venezuela are “isolated” and replaced by “out-of-the-area” countries such as Australia, Japan and India. Daalder, at the time at the Brookings Institution, was one of the most prominent advocates. In 2004, he wrote, “We need an Alliance of Democratic States. This organization would unite nations with entrenched democratic traditions, such as the United States and Canada; the European Union countries; Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia; India and Israel; Botswana and Costa Rica.” [Washington Post, May 23, 2004] NATO would  be the framework for a new US-led global order with the United Nations reduced to a mere handmaiden and cleanup service. That is, an enlarged western war pact, that in end effect “will be in rivalry with the United Nations or prepared to be its alternative.” The activation of NATO by the Bush administration aimed to put a humanitarian face on its war preparations and to insinuate NATO as a legitimate body that is qualified to intervene in social, political and economic affairs. NATO is a rogue military alliance that flouts the rule of international law. Its aggressive activities are opposed by a majority of the world’s peoples, who decry it as the “North Atlantic Terrorist Organization.” [4] Halliburton, Pat Robertson get Katrina funds It was not a question of helping others but of helping themselves. The US Navy was quick (on September 2) to give a $500 million contract to Kellogg Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, that had also got giant contracts in Iraq, to repair the levees at a Gulf Coast naval facility. Halliburton is a giant oil-field services company run by Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995 to 2000. The promise of lucrative relief contracts sent shares in two large arms-oil multinationals, Halliburton and Baker Hughes, soaring to 52-week highs. Since 1989, governments worldwide had awarded $3b in contracts to KBR’s Government and Infrastructure Division to clean up damage caused by natural and man-made disasters. Earlier in 2005, the US Navy awarded KBR and three other companies $350m in contracts to repair naval facilities in northwest Florida damaged by Hurricane Ivan, which had struck in September 2004. On September 8, Bush suspended the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act in storm ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi – a law that required employers to pay the locally prevailing wage to workers on federally-financed projects, which were already lower than in most parts of the country. Suspending Davis-Bacon allowed the government and contractors to pay lower than prevailing wages. Bush said, “[it] will result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals.” The suspension in fact amounted to a gift to the corporations inundating the area to carry out the reconstruction, who were under no legal or contractural obligation to pass the savings along.

A relief bill passed by Congress included another boon for predatory monopolies, who had descended like vultures on the region to get a piece of the $62 billion so far allocated. In a significant change to federal contracting regulations, contractors were allowed to spend up to $250,000 on hurricane-related contracts and expenses without seeking competitive bids. Restrictions were also eased that favoured the contracting of small and minority-owned businesses. Previously only purchases up to $2,500 in normal circumstances, or $15,000 in emergencies, were exempt. Republicans had sought a change in these regulations for years.

The economic response was, of course, not only conceived as medi­cine for the big American monopolies but also had a function in financing a reactionary political and social reserve base which serves the USA and its aggressive plans. The Bush administration hoped to capitalize on the disaster to change laws that barred the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from giving money directly to religious organizations. By allowing FEMA to directly fund religious groups that were assisting Katrina survivors, the Republicans aimed to pave the way for their long-standing goal of increasing government funding of private religious institutions – at the expense of federal spending on social programs. According to the previously cited Washington Post report,

“The first concrete program officials announced in October 2005 – a $66 million contract to a consortium of 10 faith-based and charity groups to provide social services to displaced families – so far has assisted less than half the 100,000 victims it promised to help, the project director said.

“The group, led by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has spent $30 million of the money it was given to aid about 45,000 evacuees. Senate investigators are questioning some terms in the contract proposal, including a provision to pay consultants for 450 days to train volunteers for the work the committee was paid to do.”

Other organizations that used the name of God were similarly blessed. Just days after calling for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, a crime under international law, evangelist Pat Robertson and the “faith-based” Christian Broadcasting Network initially greeted Katrina as a sign of God’s punishment of America for siding with the Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza. It then changed its tune. It called for donations and announced “Operation Blessing,” which consisted of a highly-publicized but totally inadequate shipment of canned goods and bibles. Instead of being punished for calling for the assassination of the leader of a foreign state, Robertson was rewarded. FEMA, in its list of government recommended organizations for making Katrina relief contributions, listed Operation Blessing among the top groups, alongside the Red Cross. Operation Blessing is one of Robertson’s organizations. Robertson, who ran for president in 1992, had a weekly TV program broadcast to millions. Robertson is also known to have received more than $25 million in federal public dollars through Bush’s “faith-based” programs. (“Government Failure in Katrina Aftermath: News Briefs and Commentary,” Voice of Revolution, September 11, 2005, usmlo.org.) [5] Let them eat cake The preoccupation of leading members of the US executive power is illustrative. To cite various examples:

“President Bush was on a carefree holiday in Texas playing golf when Katrina struck. He then spent Monday on a pre-arranged political fundraising tour of California and Arizona, which he did not cancel or curtail. As the full magnitude of the disaster unfolded, the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, a native of Alabama, was seen shopping for $7,000 shoes in New York, and US Vice President Dick Cheney remained on holiday in Wyoming until Thursday” – after completing the purchase of a vacation mansion in St. Michael’s, MD. (“The Questions a Shocked America is Asking its President,” Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, Saturday, September 3, 2005.)

As New Orleans sank, [US Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld attended a San Diego Padres baseball game: “The seemingly carefree behaviour of top Bush administration officials early this week, who stuck to their vacations as tens of thousands cried for help in New Orleans, gained another twist with revelations that Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld was taking in a ball game in San Diego late Monday night – nearly 24 hours after Katrina hit the coast.” The NORTHCOM chief “joined Padres President John Moores in the owner’s box…at Petco Park.” (“Revealed: Rumsfeld at Padres Ball Games as New Orleans Sank,” Editor & Publisher, September 6, 2005.)

[6] Venezuela Officially Offers Aid to US,” Saturday, September 3, 2005, Venezuelanalysis.com. [7] Andrew Jack, “Cuba’s Medical Diplomacy,” Haiti-Cuba-Venezuela Analysis (HCVA) blog, May 15, 2010. [8] “Cuba offers help to US,” AP, September 3, 2005. [9] “Daley ‘shocked’ at federal snub of offers to help,” Chicago Tribune, 1 September 2005; “Mayor Daley ‘Shocked’ as Feds Reject Aid,” Sun Times. [10] “A National Disgrace’: Questions Grow Over Rescue Chaos,” BBC, Friday, 2 September 2, 2005. [11] Prensa Latina, September 5, 2005; “Castro: U.S. hasn’t responded to Katrina offer,” CNN, September 5, 2005, http://www.shunpiking.org/ol0209/0209-AID-PL-cubapati.htm [12] “Hurricane Katrina Causes Sanitary Crisis in New Orleans,” Prensa Latina, September 5, 2005. [13] Sue Pleming, “U.S. gives Cuba cold shoulder over aid offer,” Reuters, September 6, 2005. [14] Silvia Barthelemy, Anett Ríos and José A. de a Osa, “We will train professionals prepared to fight against death in any part of the world,” Granma, September 20, 2005. [15] At the same time, it commemorated the unselfish work of the over 250 Cuban health personnel that went to Sierra Leona, Liberia and Guinea Conakry in 2014-2015 to fight the Ebola outbreak. The Doctor Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health was established in 2008, and it is granted to persons or governmental institutions t mainly the fields “young leadership” and “contributor of health management” (especially for epidemics) at the annual assembly of WHO, which takes place in May each year. (“WHO grants prize to Cuba’s Henry Reeve Medical Brigade,” Cubasi, February 1, 2017.) [16] “Cuba develops four cancer vaccines, ignored by the media,” CubainformacionJuly 5, 2014

For your information

The dispersal of a city

02diaspora_graphic

Click to enlarge

October 15, 2005

Millions More March, Washington, D.C.

Demanding the right to return, Washington, February 8-9, 2006

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Active hurricane season approaching. MARK RUSHTON with TONY SEED, Shunpiking Magazine, July 2005

3 Comments

Filed under Canada, United States

3 responses to “Reality Check. When Venezuela and Cuba offered aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina

  1. 4.19.2020 – Thank you for a clear picture of what’s happening today w/Covid 19. The WHO offered tests to Trump back in December or January, before it even got to this point. God bless; keep writing!

    Like

  2. Pingback: NATO medical force arrives in US | Tony Seed's Weblog

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