Haiti earthquake relief: Despite tensions, Cuba opens airspace to US flights

In the wake of the Haiti earthquake, Cuba is allowing US flights over its airspace, cutting the trip between Guantánamo Bay and Miami by 90 minutes.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP
A forklift loads relief supplies aboard a Coast Guard C130 bound for Haiti at the Coast Guard Air Station, Sacramento, in North Highlands, Calif., Thursday. Cuba is allowing the US to use its airspace for medical evacuation flights from Haiti, the White House said late Thursday.

Cuba, the communist Caribbean island under a United States embargo since 1962, is allowing the US to use Cuban airspace for medical evacuation flights from Haiti, the White House said late Thursday. That will cut 90 minutes from the flight from the US base at Guantánamo Bay to Miami, it added.

Haiti was struck by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake 15 miles from its capital city, Port-au-Prince, Tuesday evening. Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds of thousands injured.

The US and Cuba are still at cold war-era odds for what Cubans call the "blockade" – the US trade embargo that restricts most Americans from spending money in Cu,ba and sharply limits trade between the two nations in order to protest the Castro regime’s human rights and political record. But they can share common ground in offering relief to their shared neighbor Haiti.

US President Obama has pledged to Haiti that "you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten." In an open letter to “sister Republic of Haiti” President René Prevál, Cuban leader Raúl Castro similarly pledged: “On behalf of the Cuban people and government, I convey to you our most heartfelt condolences and reiterate that you can count on aid in solidarity from our country at this difficult time.” His letter was translated in the state-run Cuban newspaper Granma.

Raúl officially took the reins of Cuba from his brother Fidel in 2008 as the aging revolutionary’s health declined. Whether the airspace restriction is the latest in a series of softening signals coming from Raúl, in addition to a pragmatic gesture from Cuba toward Haiti, remains to be seen.

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