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Friday, September 11, 1998 Published at 07:15 GMT 08:15 UK

World: Americas

Cuba to reject US aid

The drought has wiped out food harvests

The Cuban authorities say they will reject any aid for drought victims from the United Nations if it includes donations from the United States government.

Last week, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) made an urgent appeal for $20.5m to ease the effects of a continuing drought in Cuba.

In the worst-hit eastern provinces, lack of rain has wiped out food harvests, not to mention cash crops such as sugar and tobacco, and more than 600,000 people are at risk from malnutrition, the UN agency says.

The WFP wants to distribute basic foodstuffs like rice, beans and cooking oil to the most needy - in particular young children, pregnant women, and the elderly. It is hoping the international community will help cover the costs.

The United States government is still studying the UN's request, but if in the end it does contribute to the aid, Cuba will not accept it, Alejandro Gonzalez, a foreign ministry spokesman told a news conference in Havana.

"Humanitarian aid from the United States government would be humiliating, hypocritical and unacceptable when there is an economic, trade and financial blockade against Cuba for the past 40 years," said Mr Gonzalez.

A BBC correspondent in the region, Liz Throssell, says Mr Gonzalez's tough words seem designed to show that Cuba does not need to hold out a begging hand, above all to Washington.

Aid from American private organisations and individuals is already reaching the island, she says, especially since Washington eased its sanctions earlier this year to allow medicines and food to be taken to the island.

This kind of aid is on a much smaller scale, though.

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