Pride and Prejudice

Jonathan Riedel '09

Here’s an ethical pickle for you to ponder: a bully beats you up, breaks your left leg and leaves you lying in the middle of the street as you try to crawl your way off the street so you can walk the mile home. The really annoying kid in your English class that you have come to hate after a heated argument a few years back is the first one to try to help you get up and take you home. You have several options:

a) You accept the help and take advantage of the situation to improve your relationship with him.

b) You accept the help but stay away because you really don’t like the guy.

c) You reject the help and tell him to worry about his own problems.

What would America do?

This situation is apropos the U.S.’s rejection of Cuba’s offer following Hurricane Katrina. The Cuban government, which has traditionally been empathetic during weather disasters, has offered more than 1600 medics, construction of interspersed field hospitals in Louisiana and Mississippi, and 83 tons of medical supplies. The United States also rejected Cuba’s offer of $50,000 in the wake of Charley in August 2004, even after Cuba itself was barraged by heavy winds and rain from the same storm.

Doctors and volunteers in Havana are itching and anxious to help. Many of them have been working in undersupplied and understaffed clinics in Africa and responded promptly to the tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka. They have packed medical bags and are ready to go on call as soon as they are requested, but any such request is highly unlikely to come. Unfortunately, the U.S. has rejected all offers of aid from Cuba under the assumption that its Communist government would impede diplomatic relations. The Cold War and subsequent anti-Communist sentiments are to blame for the high tension, which is apparently too strong for civility and compassion to break. A White House spokesperson, Scott McClellan, scoffed at the idea of accepting Cuba’s proposal. “When it comes to Cuba, we have one message for Fidel Castro,” McClellan said. “He needs to offer the people of Cuba their freedom.”

In an informal survey, 22% of participants agreed with the government’s decision to reject aid. “If the Cuban government wants to do something useful, it should end the ridiculousness that’s been going on for the past 45 years,” said anonymous participant. “We’re not as foolish as the gingerbread man to accept help from the dangerous fox.” 74% of participants disagreed, however, believing that the government should accept the offer as a gesture of good will. “The U.S. needs to swallow its pride, throw aside politics for the time being, and communicate as civil countries should,” said one of the dissenters. “It’s nothing more than discrimination on a large scale.” The remaining 4% were undecided on the issue.

What does a conflicting set of political and economic systems have to do with the good will of thousands of volunteers? Apparently, a little too much.