Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cuba delays military exercise after 2 hurricanes

International Herald Tribune
Saturday, September 13, 2008

HAVANA: Cuba announced Saturday that it is postponing a military exercise so soldiers can focus on helping the country recover and rebuild from the devastation of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

An "informative note" in the Communist Party newspaper Granma said President Raul Castro had decided to put off "Bastion 2008," an exercise scheduled to begin in November. It provided no further details about the exercise.

A four-star army general, Raul Castro served as defense minister for decades before succeeding his ailing, 82-year-old elder brother Fidel as president in February. In a national address in July, he put Washington on notice that Cuba would focus on modernizing and better training and equipping its military.

But two big storms have forced a change in plans.

Hurricane Gustav slammed into western Cuba on Aug. 30, damaging homes and crippling industry, food production and infrastructure in Pinar del Rio province and Isla de la Juventud, an island south of mainland Cuba. Barely a week later, Ike hit eastern Cuba, killing seven people and forcing nearly a fourth of the nation's population to evacuate their homes.

Also Saturday, Victor Ramirez, president of Cuba's National Housing Institute, said more than half a million homes were damaged or destroyed by Gustav and Ike, more than 91,000 of those beyond repair.

Ramirez said the losses from both storms could reach in the billions of dollars and that Cuba's armed forces had begun to tap into reserve stocks of food and other supplies to provide aid to tens of thousands left homeless.

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