US State Dept. Interferes with Historic Event

A historic meeting took place from May 23 through the 26th in Monterrey, Mexico as Cuban and US hurricane experts gathered to exchange ideas and information just as hurricane season began. However, one participant failed to appear, thanks to untimely interference by the US State Department. The US-Cuba Hurricane Summit was the first event of its kind. Wayne Smith of the Center for International Policy and co-coordinators WILPF member Randy Poindexter of NO-MAS (the New Orleans-Mariel Amistad Society) and another WILPF’er, Jay Higgenbotham of Society Mobile-La Habana, assembled participants from along the hard-hit Gulf Coast region to attend the summit. They met with leading Cuban experts to discuss how the US could better prepare for hurricanes. Unable to attend the Summit was US meteorologist Lixion Avilia, from Miami, FL, who was detained in Dallas en route on his way to Monterrey, Mexico when he received a message from the US State Department ordering him not to attend the US-Cuba Hurricane Summit. The Summit proceeded as planned at the Technológico de Monterrey, hosted by Dr. Victor Lopez Villafane. Guest speakers included Pulitzer prize winning writers Jed Horne and Mark Schleifstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, Louisiana State University Hurricane Center scientist and author Ivor Van Heerden, as well as the emergency management directors Walt Dickerson of Mobile Country in Alabama, Joe Spraggins of Harrison County in Mississippi and John Dosh of Pensacola, Florida. Former FEMA officials Phil Coogan and Morrie Goodman from Washington spoke, as did conference organizers Wayne Smith, Randy Poindexter and Jay Higgenbotham. Cuba was represented by Chief of the Cuban Interests Section in the US, Dagoberto Rodriguez as well as a delegation from the island, led by well-known Cuban meteorologist Jose Rubiera, who spoke about Cuba's weather prognostications as well as their civil defenses efforts. Dr. Jose Borges Rodriguez, Dr. Daniel Loriet Andreu from the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade, both of whom hoped to go to New Orleans to offer assistance, and Norys de las Mercedes Maderas of the Ministry of Cuba's Foreign Relations, spoke of the offer of 1,600 medical doctors and 36 tons of medical supplies known as the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade that Cuba was prepared to send to the US in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and what kind of assistance Cuba might provide again in the future. The Henry ReeveMedical Brigade instead departed for Indonesia and Pakistan following major earthquakes. Participants shared experiences and knowledge of disaster management preparedness on this rare occasion under a special grant provided by the Ford Foundation. A grant from the Brownstone Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland provided for the Cubans to attend and avoid violation of the Helms-Burton law. Conclusions were drawn by all that the summit was a major success which must be repeated again next year, to include more emergency management directors. For further information, contact Randy Poindexter, 504-453-4827,
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