By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, Oct 21 – New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has been in Cuba this week to get a look at the island’s civil defense system. Both Cuba and the US Gulf port city are vulnerable to seasonal hurricanes.
However, the deadly chaos that overcame New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 sharply contrasted from Cuba’s dealing with that cyclone and three major hurricanes in 2008, when only seven persons died as a result.
When recalling what happened during Katrina, when it wasn’t clear who was in charge, Nagin told AP: “The president and the governor were going back and forth. … in Cuba you don’t have that problem,” he said Tuesday evening in Havana. “The government says, ‘This is what we’re doing, these are the resources we are going to deploy,’ and it pretty much happens.”
“I think they do a much better job than we do on knowing their citizens at a very, very detailed level, block by block,” Nagin added after seeing presentations on how the island’s authorities go into action during disasters.
Other concerns of Nagin are making his city’s port a magnet for trade with Cuba, still way below potential due to the half-century US economic blockade on the Caribbean island. He is also seeking for New Orleans to be a focus for charter flights to Havana.
Such flights are currently available for Cuban-Americans and those US citizens with special US Treasury Dept. permission, from Miami, New York and Los Angeles.
Besides the economic blockade the US government prohibits ordinary citizens from visiting Cuba, the only country in the world currently off-bounds, and punishable by heavy fines. Bills to lift the travel ban are currently in committees of both the US House of Representatives and the Senate.
President Obama has taken an ambivalent stance on Cuba policy and has not said whether he would sign any legislation that would either end the travel ban or weaken the blockade.