Does the Cuban Government Have to Be a Donor Intermediary?

Photo: El Toque

By Meilin Puertas Borrero (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – Hours after the explosion at the Hotel Saratoga on May 6, 2022, which left 45 people dead and 37 families living near by evacuated, many civil society groups mobilized independently to collect donations for those affected: clothes, shoes, toys, water, non-perishable foods, medicine.

Even though every initiative has sought out its own way to deliver donations directly into survivors’ hands and without the intervention of state organizations, there have been plenty of government obstacles.

On May 14th, after days of sorting, packing and buying food with over 50,000 Cuban pesos they were able to raise, user Michel Moran arrived to the Las Brisas apartment hotel, in Villa Panamericana, where survivors are staying.

Despite his good intentions, he wasn’t allowed to get close to the hotel: “If you hand over the donations to the Municipal Government, there’s no problem, they don’t ask for any documentation; but if you refuse, they begin to ask you questions about belonging to some organization, and they take photos of your ID to look you up. That’s what happened to me at least,” he told El Toque in an interview.

Giving the donations to Old Havana’s Municipal Government, which these families belong to, and making distribution a slow and non-transparent process wasn’t an option in his eyes; so, despite State Security intimidating him, he decided to set himself up on the side of the building and slowly give out bags of clothes and food to people coming out of the hotel, who came to see what he was doing. “State Security agents and the police were annoyed, but they couldn’t do anything. We weren’t committing a crime,” Moran reminds us.

Massy Carram had a similar experience. However, she also found alternative channels to deliver donations, although they’ve prefered not to make these public as she was still handing out donations at the time of her complaint on Facebook.

Cuban musician, Erich Concepcion, now living in the US, wasn’t allowed to deliver the money he’d raised with the help of his fans, which he personally brought to Havana.

 “They came to my house and made it impossible for me to get to where I wanted to deliver the money. The excuse they gave me was that this is a highly politicized matter and there are people with hidden intentions who don’t exactly want to help (…). Donations of medical supplies were delivered to Calixto Garcia Hospital without any problems,” he said in Facebook livestream.

But, what does the Law have to say about the way donations work in Cuba?

Up until now, there is no law in Cuba that regulates how donations between individuals living on the island can be made.

In these cases, there is no legal document that stipulates that the Cuban Government has the obligation of acting as an intermediary between those who collect and categorize donations, and those who need them.

In the case of donations coming from abroad, there is Decree-Law 16/2020 about International Cooperation, that outlines the procedure that needs to be followed for the material or financial donations Cuba receives or offers.

Article 4. of the same document makes it crystal clear that in any of these cases, aid is given “without economic, political or social conditions that imply meddling in domestic affairs, without affecting the unity of Cuban society and strictly respecting the sovereignty, self-determination, laws, culture, religion and customs of the country benefitting from them.”

One of the forms of donation recognized by the Decree-Law is “aid in the wake of disasters or emergencies,” that consists of actions “to help people when exceptional situations arise.”

However, donations are interceded by the Cuban Government under any circumstance, regulating and determining as much their approval as much as their distribution: “international cooperation efforts that Cuba receives favor the State as the entity responsible for ensuring basic services to the population.” (Article 34)

While legal entities can also receive donations, after prior authorization, they can only use state mechanisms to distribute these resources. These measures don’t allow individuals to act as recipients, administrators or distributors of donations in any circumstance.

The State’s transport means to deliver aid once it arrives in Cuba have to even be recorded in the National Vehicle Registry in the name of an international cooperation program or project, and be supported by an authorization issued by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign investment (MINCEX), according to Article 49.1.

This certificate is necessary to recive donations in Cuba, which needs to be handed to Customs when goods are being received, and to the Central Bank if it is a matter of financial aid. Without this authorization, any donation ends up in Customs’ hands.

If mass or social organizations are taking part in these cooperation efforts, such as churches or other Cuban NGOs, “they need to be supported by the corresponding authorities.” This once again gives government agencies the ability to authorize or reject aid.

Given the bureaucracy involved in these mechanisms, delays and the State’s total control over donations, the Cuban exile community has sought free and swift channels to get some of the most highly-sought-after resources into the country, whether this is via parcel companies or as part of peoples’ baggage.

Up until mid-2021, passengers could arrive to the island with only 10 kg of medicine free of Custom charges, which ruled this last channel out as an option. However, ever since July 19th last year, eight days after the large-scale protests throughout the country, food, personal hygiene items and medicines can be imported without restrictions on their worth and without paying customs duties that were previously in place. This measure has been extended until December 31, 2022.

Such “flexibility” has made it another alternative for those seeking a way to help hundreds of Cubans as quickly as possible, and without the Government’s involvement, whether that’s because of political differences or because of their lack of transparency.

Political and social organizations on the island have also served as donation collection and sorting points. However, these are then handed over to the Municipal Government. Spaces such as the Martin Luther King Memorial Center or the National CDR Offices, began to collect donations, with the help of voluntary groups, just hours after the accident at the Hotel Saratoga and they documented this organization and aid on social media.

The donation process shouldn’t be taken lightly, regardless of whether it’s being led by a state institution or private initiative, and should respect a protocol that records every detail: making lists of the resources most in need, documenting deliveries with photos and videos, separating and classifying products (personal hygiene, food, clothes for different age groups), presenting the sum of money raised, if this is the case, and what it will be used for.

The destruction in many Havana municipalities in the wake of the tornado on January 27, 2019, was, without a doubt, one of the driving forces for citizens to mobilize in groups led by individuals, private businesses and the Cuban exile community, coming together to help those who were left in a vulnerable situation.

Ever since then, civil society coordinators have generally proved that they abide and follow the required steps in an orderly fashion, and that there is no need to centralize humanitarian aid management in state mechanisms to manage donations efficiently.

No obstacle should be placed in the way of solidarity. Donors have the right to choose the channel their belongings make it to those most in need.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times



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