Hurricane Lili's thrashing of Cuba quickly transformed Miami's Castro-bashing Cuban-American radio stations into one big relief agency.
A variety of anti-Castro frequencies on the AM dial buzzed with appeals for canned food and cash donations to help "el pueblo Cubano" - the Cuban people - over the weekend. But the havoc wreaked across the Straits of Florida also blew the lid off some Spanish-language call-in talk shows, with callers questioning whether the aid would be delivered to the people who need it or be confiscated by the Castro government.
Many angry callers said the relief effort would only help Cuba's deteriorated economy, and therefore strengthen the Castro regime.
Still, many Cuban-Americans flocked to stations to drop off donations. The carpeted reception area of WQBA-AM's building in Coral Gables, Fla., for example, teemed with people filling hundreds of cardboard# boxes with canned milk and vegetables and bags of rice.
Less than a day after the drive began, several tons of food and more than $20,000 had been collected from Miami residents, says Agustn Acosta, station manager at WQBA.
An assurance by the Archdiocese of Miami that the food would reach hurricane victims directly through them spurred this unprecedented outpouring of aid.
The archdiocese is planning to send the aid to Cuba early this week, after it is cleared by the US government. The US trade embargo on Cuba permits the delivery of humanitarian aid, including food, medicine, and clothing.
ALTHOUGH humanitarian goods may move from the US to Cuba, many Cuban-Americans who want to help relatives who've been left homeless may not be allowed to travel to the island, under the embargo. Current law allows US citizens to visit Cuba once a year to tend critically ill or deceased relatives, but it does not allow trips for victims of natural disasters.
"I think it is totally inhumane that family members cannot reunite in a more easy way," says Armando Garca, vice president of a Miami travel agency that arranges charter flights to Cuba through the Bahamas and Mexico.