Cuba’s Response to Hurricane Irma Puts “America First-ism” to Shame

By Rebecca Bodenheimer*

Hurracane Irma smashes against the Morro fortress. Photo: Ismael Francisco/ Cubadebate.

HAVANA TIMES – In the wake of the incredible destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma, Cuba has sent 750 doctors and medical professionals to other Caribbean islands to assist with rescue efforts. Cuba itself has been devastated by Irma, with 10 deaths already reported and dramatic images of a flooded Havana; this, despite the fact that the capital was not the hardest hit area of the island.

Nonetheless, as it has done with countless other disasters—notably, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia—Cuba is once again first in line to provide not merely financial assistance, but to send its own highly trained medical professionals into disaster zones in the Global South.

This longstanding commitment to global humanitarianism can be contrasted with the “America first-ism” that has been conspicuously on display since Hurricane Irma first began to develop into an unprecedented natural disaster.

Sadly, many US citizens don’t consider or seem to care when natural disasters that threaten parts of the United States affect nearby nations. I was particularly distressed by this tweet last Monday, suggesting that Cuba functions as a “buffer” for south Florida. In case there was any doubt about this woman’s disregard for other affected areas, she followed up with this tweet, essentially stating that as long as Irma headed in any direction that didn’t threaten the US, she didn’t care.

Genios Street in Centro Habana. Photo: Ismael Francisco/ Cubadebate.

Cuba is the Caribbean’s largest, most populated island, and comments like this are offensive, not only to Cubans and other Caribbean people, but to US citizens whose loved ones live in these island nations that are so often ravaged by natural disasters. In addition, it must be stressed that most of these islands and the people who live on them do not have the resources the US government and individual US citizens do, either to prevent death and injury, or to respond adequately to devastating hurricanes and earthquakes.

Sentiments like the ones expressed by these tweets exemplify the worst of US ethnocentrism, the notion that we come first, and deserve a better quality of life simply by virtue of having been born in the US. It is, of course, no surprise to me that someone wearing a “MAGA” cap in her Twitter profile would espouse these views, as our current president has given free rein to racists and xenophobes to publicly express their disdain and lack of regard not only for people from other nations, but for any US who is not straight, cisgender, or a WASP.

In a national context where the president pardons a law enforcement official (Sheriff Joe Arpaio) who engaged in a sadistic abuse of power that targeted Latinos, and then announces his plan to abandon the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients—minors who know no other home outside of the US—it is important to highlight and denounce  “America first-ism” in all its forms and expressions.

Hurricane Irma led to a major sea surge along the Havanz Malecon seawall and avenue. Photo: Ismael Francisco /

In yet another example of Trump’s cruelty and contempt for our southern neighbors, a piece out in The Guardian chronicling Irma’s destruction in Havana due to the capital’s well-known crumbling infrastructure also notes that Trump renewed the US embargo on Cuba just hours before the hurricane made landfall. The embargo will make rebuilding efforts and government purchases of building materials both extremely burdensome and costly because multinationals who trade with the US are prohibited from selling to Cuba. Under the US embargo, the island nation is also prohibited from joining the IMF and World Bank, which grant crucial infrastructure loans.

In direct contrast with this heartless decision by the Trump administration, Cuba continues to be a model for global humanitarianism. Even in the midst of economic crisis and political uncertainty (President Raul Castro is set to step down in February 2018), the small island nation that has been a thorn in the side of US imperialism and regional domination for over half a century has taken direct action to show solidarity with its neighbors.

Many people believe that natural disasters bring out the best in human beings, as individualism and self-interest are temporarily suspended in favor of empathy and a genuine desire to help people who might live thousands of miles away. US citizens tend to be generous in times of disaster, but the election of Trump has unearthed a particularly nasty strain of nativism and “America first-ism.” We have an obligation to speak out against and publicly shame anyone who suggests that US life is inherently more valuable than that of other global citizens.

*Rebecca Bodenheimer, Freelance writer & editor, independent scholar.  Author of Geographies of Cubanidad: Place, Race, and Musical Performance in Contemporary Cuba

43 thoughts on “Cuba’s Response to Hurricane Irma Puts “America First-ism” to Shame

  • The United States of America is a Giant Monster, Corporate America, the CEO is the president of corporate America, Capitalists only interest in trying to run and rule other nations in the world by imperialism, person in the U.S. were made into Strawman for the Capitalists, people branded at birth with all CAPITAL LETTERS state by state birth certificates, and social security cards, owned by their titles,.and the UCC, uniform commercial code, the whole economy is prepaid by our strawman.

  • The arguments here can be summed up, on both sides, as: (1) The Cuban government does, in proportion to the population of Cuba, a lot of humanitarian actions in the world, and also good things in Cuba. (2) But it is a dictatorship.

    Both things are true. We can argue about details — how well-trained are the doctors, just how wonderful are the democracies in Latin America, but basically, both things are true.

    But here is the real lesson of Cuba: the Cuban government is smart. Intelligence is a neutral virture, like courage. Neither character trait necessarily goes along with being good.

    So .. if I were an American leader, I would ask myself: what can I learn from the Cuban government, whose humanitarian efforts abroad, and some of whose domestic programs, such as their education system, are worth learning from?

    If the United States had a smart government, it would return Guantanamo to Cuba, but also offer (not a condition, an offer) to turn the place into a gigantic medical education centre, staffed by both countries, and funded by the US, with a great increase in Americans studying medicine there as well as students from all over the world.For the Americans, let the price of their medical education be five years service with Doctors Without Borders. The US and Cuba working together could multiply the numbers, and the quality, of Cuba’s current efforts in this field by many times over.

    A smart American government would also have offered to extend aid to Cuba to help it rebuild after the hurricane.

    And of course it would lift the embargo immediately and do everything in its power to encourage trade and tourism, while offering scholarships to Cuban young people to study in the US. The latter could be seen as some compensation for the war waged against Cuba in the 1960s and later.

    Most people reading this will probably say, “Another soft-hearted soft-headed Leftie naif.” I’m not, actually — certainly not a Leftist. These would be the smart things to do, playing the long game, if you want to see democracy advance, and America have fewer enemies in the world.

  • To my mind makes the article “Real News”

  • And you need a dictionary to look up the word “blockade”

  • Really? Are you comparing proving the Cuba the HUman Rights violations with proving a biblical testimony?

    The Human Rights violations in Cuba are proven and prestigious institutions like
    Reporters Without Borders put Cuban government in a very bad place.

    The fact that by law the Cuban people can not organize in political opposition parties is evidence enough that the Human Rights are violated.

  • In Cuba we do not even need a list (that exists) of testimony individuals exposing the human rights violations.

    The laws in Cuba that do not allow the citizens to participate in the political life are enough, the existence of only a political party, the fact that the whole press in hands of that only political party are enough for concluding the Human Rights are violated.

  • Your statements are obvious falsehoods. Your last statement exposes your agenda. You can do better. Next time, provide scholarly, historically verifiable citations to back up your assertions. Waiting…

  • I can give you a list of the number of people who have walked on water.

    What you can’t do is prove it.

  • It is well known that global human rights activists are paid publicists. The Cuban mercenaries were pioneers. Kennedy got the idea for the CIA taking over human rights organizations or making his own when planning the invasion of Cuba.

    Cuba has by far the best human rights record in the western hemisphere.

    If you know someone who spent 25 years in a Cuban prison, be careful. He is a killer.

  • My prayer have been with your country since the day that storm hit. I’m sure that narrow minded insulting tweet was fear not wanting such a strong storm to hit. I am also guilty of not wanting a direct hit. I cant imagine what you have been through. As for president trump, I never realized how many prejudice people were still left in America. It’s a scary time in America.

  • Add in that previous attempts to provide aid to Cuba were blocked by the Cuban government. Add in that Cuban doctors can rarely pass the US doctors exams and are actually at best, the equivalent of US EMTs. Add in that Cuba has a 240% tax on imported building material (to keep the Castros in the green). Add in that Cuban pharmacies are empty of supplies (although it seems the connected never go without).

  • Hundreds of billions ? What are you talking about ? I think you are including military aid. The exact opposite of humanitarian aid.

  • And how is this related to the abuse that endure the Cuban doctors and the Cuban people?

  • “One in eight persons incarcerated on planet Earth is said to be a ‘Black’ person in a US prison. The US 320 million (with 32 millions illiterate) is just under 5% of the Planets population and ‘Black’ less than 13% of its population.
    Interesting numbers when we talk about state abuse

  • First off the US has about 375 mil people and when you count the $$ from non profit and faith based charities along with the billions$ the gov sends to the rest of the world, you point is rediculous and baseless. As far as the UN goes, I dont give rats tail what that despicable organiztion thinks: they are a polluted cesspool of corruption and anti semitism . My knowledge of history and current affairs will dwarf you.

  • So how do you know what or how much Cuba sends? Their propaganda machine telling you? Your response is foolish and factless. Yet you completely ignored the basis for my post; how can Cuba be so humanitarian when they repress, jail and kill their own citizens with a brutal communist government. Let see if you have another sidewinder response?

  • Cuba is not now nor has it been a “model for humanitarianism”. The Cuban gov is ruthless and kills and jails any dissident that dares speak out against this heinous regime. That you would have the gall to claim that they are only shows your idiocy or communist bent. As far as the UN goes, F the UN and their despicable organiztion. Liberalism, a mental disorder

  • Not a shred of what you stated is true. You can not back it up with facts and you know it. So just quit with the statements that only make ou look foolish.

  • Ryan Ross: a real life situation. My Cuban significant other’s family doctor was offered the opportunity to do a medical mission in Venezuela. He accepted because it was the only way he could get ahead financially.

    But he took the office sphygmomanometer or blood pressure cuff with him. The replacement doctor did not have one nor will the government furnish one. So I had to bring a Sphygmomanometer from the US so she can have her blood pressure checked.

    And, don’t get me started on my ex- girlfriend who died of a simpe cancer that was originally misdiagnosed for 3 months, then had her radiation therapy delayed twice, once because the machine was broken, and once because there was a 2 month wait. Or, the nurse that demanded 100 CUC to move her up in the queue. Or, her chemotherapy that was delayed twice because the drugs were not available. Or, the fact that I had to pay for her morphine syringes at the international pharmacy where they were always available but never at the Cuban pharmacy where they should have been essentially free. At least her funeral was cheap.

    Ask why so few Cuban trained doctors can pass the standard US medical exam.

  • You are completely ignorant. The USA has well over 200 million people, Cub has just 11. Of course they don’t have the same resources as the USA, especially with the blockade making life there as difficult as possible. In case you didn’t notice, the UN passed a resolution denouncing Trump’s bogus announcement about “renewing” the blockade, something only Congress can do. You need lessons in both history and current affairs, but of course being one of the “deplorables” you won’t acknowledge that fact.

  • I speak of the human rights violations that are well-documented since 1959 by global human rights activists, Cuban activists currently living in Cuba and Cuban authors that spent twenty-five years or more in Castros’ gulags.

  • I stated “The Castros gave very little warning to the Cuban people,” which is true. People in Florida were being warned to evacuate weeks in advance of the hurricane. Cubans only became aware of the hurricane from relatives living in Florida. The regime squandered precious time while Floridians were immersed in preparation. Did you see the photos of Cubans swimming in the streets of Havana after the hurricane? All of those people should have been evacuated. They lost everything. Can we really trust the regime’s declaration that only ten lives were lost? Totalitarian regimes do not tell the truth. The Castros are masters of deception. Slave workers (doctors) sent to other nations fulfill a wholly political agenda devoid of humanitarianism. These same slave workers defect to the U.S. when the opportunity arises. Who can blame them?

    Florida’s government did an excellent job in warning the people ahead of hurricane Irma. Many lives were saved because the people heeded the governor’s call to evacuate flood prone areas. Those who refused to evacuate, like the administrators of the retirement home, chose to stay. That is the fault of the facility administrators; not the government. How is the government supposed to evacuate a retirement facility in the middle of a raging hurricane, especially when all communication had been severed due to the storm? It is not possible. No, sir, nothing I stated is nonsense. It is truth and common sense.

  • If you Want i can give you a list of The Castros monarchy humans rights violations.

  • This article looks like one from the official communist party newspaper “Granma”.

  • “they send thousands…” Thank you.

    This phrase reaffirm my point. First, “they send” gives the idea the government owns the medical professionals. They do not go, they are sent…and in precarious situations, they can not have their family with them, their salary is negotiated and administrated by the Cuban government, they can not organized for ask for better conditions and have something like an Labor Union without government control.

    “thousands” means that in Cuba are thousand doctor less, no? Simple math. And that means that the Cuban people is underserved in hospitals and clinics. Or those doctors were not needed in Cuba. Those thousands doctors had a positions and a job in Cuba., taking care of Cuban patients.

    You can scream even louder (uppercase) 🙂 now.

  • The writer says, “US citizens tend to be generous in times of disaster…” and I think she’s right. Even the author of the unfortunate tweet would probably respond well if directly confronted with people in need.
    As has been pointed out a minority of voters supported Trump and when you add in all those who didn’t vote, Trump has far from majority support.

  • Ryan Ross: can you give some real concrete examples of how the US is withholding aid to Cuban people instead of making vague general statements? I am seeing much aid coming direct from US residents direct to Cuban people.

    Too bad the Cuban government denied the licenses approved by the US government for ferries to sail from Florida direct to Cuba. If they were in operation today, there would be much flow of needed goods to Cuba whereas now all we can do is what we can carry as airline baggage or sending money to a country where there is little to buy in the way of construction materials.

  • The US may send more total aid (much of it with strings such as austerity requirements to reduce social programs, or to authoritarian regimes that repress their people, or in the form of “democracy-building” funds of the CIA or AID that undermine the democratically-elected govts the US disapproves of, etc) but Cuba sends more as a percentage of their GDP. As a percentage of GDP, the US sends far less than most western industrialized nations. That’s a fact.
    If the US was so “humanitarian” they wouldn’t withhold aid to the people of a country regardless of their disagreement with their government. The US govt does not care about the Cuban people – all their actions hurt the Cuban people, not their govt.

  • Cuba has trained so many medical professionals FOR FREE, (Cuban students as well as international students including from the US, who then go back to work in the underserved communities of the US!) they send thousands to other countries while NOT LEAVING THEIR COUNTRY WITH A SHORTAGE OF MEDICAL PERSONNEL.

  • “The Castros gave no warning to the Cuban people”? Why are you spreading lies? Everything you wrote must be suspect because the Cuban govt evacuated 1 million people to safety so when a Cat 5 hurricane hit the country lost only 10 people. Compare to how the FL govt left retirement homes and hospitals to fend for themselves, and seniors were sitting in their wheelchairs in water up to their laps.
    They “export misery and death to other nations”? Do you mean the doctors and medical professionals they send by the thousands to help other countries when disasters occur?
    You are full of nonsense.

  • What human rights violations, do you live here?

  • “Cuba continues to be a model for global humanitarianism”, totally outrageous statement as they hold rule and perscute their OWN people. Also to claim that in contrast with the 100’s of billions of $ that we send to other counties for aid (Haiti after the quake, just one) yearly is more than the GDP or the gov budget of Cuba. Add that with the scores of non profit humanitarian groups that go to foreign countries with man power, doctors and supplies, no other coutry in the world gives more….none. This piece was written to slam Pres Trump unfounded criticism and a typical liberal spin piece. “A model for global humanitarianism”, it would be laughable but it is disgusting

  • There are other countries out here, Canada for one. All the British Commonweatlh countries, Scandinavian countries, who have long records of humanitarian assistance outside their borders. The universe does not begin and end with the United States.

  • “Trump renewed the US embargo on Cuba” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The embargo was never lifted & therefore it doesn’t need to be “renewed.” It cannot be lifted until “Congress” lifts it, not the President.

    If you hate the U.S. so much, why don’t you try making a living in a foriegn country.

  • Well Rebeca, what do you think about this excerpt from Politico:

    “Trump swiftly reacted to the devastating natural disaster on Tuesday, tweeting solidarity with the people of Mexico City within hours of the quake.

    “We are with you and will be there for you,” the president wrote.”


    Trump Sends Rescue Teams To Mexico | The Daily Caller…/white-house-trump-sends-rescue-teams-to-mexico-after-earthquake…

    11 hours ago – American search-and-rescue teams are being deployed to Mexico after … The quake has led to at least 200 deaths and destroyed at least 44 buildings. … authorities and aid groups to bring critical assistance to local people,” …

    “The USAID DART, an elite team of disaster experts, will support the Government of Mexico by conducting damage assessments and coordinating with local authorities and aid groups to bring critical assistance to local people,” McCleaskey explained. “The DART comprises experts from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and an urban search-and-rescue team from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.”

    “USAID is deploying the DART following a formal request for assistance by the Government of Mexico. The United States remains committed to helping our neighbors during this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Mexico.

    And in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand and surrounding:
    ”Relief Efforts To Date:
    To date, the United States has committed $350 million in emergency relief assistance – which will be replenished in the supplemental to enable the United States to respond to future emergencies. This is in addition to operational costs incurred by the Department of Defense. Relief resources have been focused on emergency food assistance, provision of relief supplies, shelter, water and sanitation, health, education, cash for work, livelihoods recovery, psychological and social support, protecting women and children from human-trafficking, logistics and coordination, and debris clean-up.

    When the earthquake hit, USAID immediately worked to mobilize staff to respond to the humanitarian needs in the affected countries. At the height of the relief effort, more than 150 USAID personnel, including Disaster Assistance experts, were on the ground in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Maldives, and the Seychelles conducting assessments of affected areas, managing U.S. civilian response, participating in the overall coordination of relief and reconstruction activities, apprising funding requests, and recommending appropriate U.S. Government relief efforts.

    The United States, through USAID, has funded debris clean-up and other community rehabilitation projects in the relief phase benefiting more than 344,000 people through cash-for-work projects and temporary shelter for more than 165,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India.

    USAID has also funded water and sanitation activities in the emergency phase benefiting more than 885,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and the Maldives.

    USAID provided 21,220 metric tons for the first four months of World Food Program (WFP) operations, contributing to WFP’s beneficiary total of 1.4 million tsunami victims.

    The Defense Department brought into action military assets to support relief operations in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. The Defense Department has been providing vital supplies and logistics to the humanitarian effort since December 30.

    At the height of the DOD humanitarian support activities, there were nearly 16,000 U.S. military personnel in the region focused on this effort.

    There were 26 ships, 58 helicopters, and 43 fixed wing aircraft.

    DOD delivered over 10 million pounds of food and supplies and provided well over 400,000 gallons of fresh water.

    To date, DOD has treated almost 2,500 patients.”

    Not sure where you are getting your “news” from, but you are way off base. And what have you done yourself to render aid to the affected regions?

    “America first-ism” !!!!!! really???? It sure doesn’t seem like the U.S. Government is holding back in rendering aid to foreign nations in need of assistance.

  • The author of this article must be living in an alternate world. Everything that she states is suspect. The Castro regime is not committed to humanitarianism. Human rights violations within Cuba are a daily occurrence. The regime exports misery and death to other nations. One example, out of many, is Venezuela. The Castros and their puppet Maduro have run that nation into the ground. Wherever Castros’ slave workers go, freedom disappears. The Castros gave very little warning to the Cuban people that Hurricane Irma was approaching. After the hurricane, they provided no assistance to the thousands of people left homeless. It is the epitome of government neglect and ineptitude. This paper will likely censor me, as they have in the past, because I state the obvious truth, and the truth has no place in a totalitarian state that persecutes its people and deprives them of freedom.

  • Really? If a person asks for freedom and democracy in Cuba is supporting all that? How do you get to that conclusion?

    It is your free imagination, or the same tactics that uses the Cuban Government? Demonizing the people that not agree with them.

  • No Chuck, you are completely wrong about the democracy I want for my country of origin, my adore Cuba.

    The democracy that I want for Cuba is the one that allows Black Live Matters freely organize and go to protest and asks for justice. The democracy and the freedom that allows my daughter being an involved activist and march and protest without being afraid of losing her place in the University.

    That is the democracy that I want for my country. That freedom is the one I ask for, that is the democracy I want.

    It is more than shortcomings and mistakes the issues with the Cuban government, it is a system that is design for not giving the citizens the right to protest, organize, vote, ask for a solution. Cuba is a dictatorship.

  • Wrongdoings, shortcomings and failures in Cuba are known to all including SPB. But I still prefer those that are “fixable” than those he tries to obscure, ignore or forget that are broken beyond repair.

    The Democracy that SPB hails and wish to be in Cuba, is the one that have murdered hundreds of Afro Americans with impunity such as Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, Illnor Bumpers and many more

    What about infecting thousands of Afro Americans in Tuskeegee, Alabama with Lepra for research purposes, or thousands of females infected with gonorrhea in Honduras to test the effectivity of Pennicilum or hundreds of military subjected to radiation exposure in White Sands?

  • “Cuba continues to be a model for global humanitarianism….” (Cuban Government, no? )

    No, no at all. Humanitarians starts with your own people. And the Cuban government is a cruel dictatorship.

    They can send doctors to others country, because they do not have to respond for the shortage of doctors and medicine in the Hospital Provincial.

    They own the doctors and the elections.

    Please …

  • Cubans and the Cuban government have much to be proud of.

  • Without doubt Trump and his speech awake some dormant bad feelings in his base.

    Considering that he lost the popular vote and that his popularity numbers are very low, we can conclude that Trump is not the reflexion of America. This is a very diverse country and I have witness the solidarity of its people.

    A dictatorship (as the Cuban government is) can do many things with his people that in a democracy is impossible. For example, sending doctors to others countries and leaving the country with a shortage of medical personnel. In a democracy, it is impossible to do this. It is impossible also that a professional is sent without his/her family for years to other country and that his/her salary is administrated by the government. And it is also very improbable that a doctor earn more money in a foreign country, far away from his/her familly than in his own.


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