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What Michelle wrought


BEGINNING as relentless rains in Honduras and Nicaragua in late October, Michelle spun into a hurricane in early November that was Cuba's worst in a half-century. Several lands of the Caribbean will not be the same, nor will U.S. policies affecting them.

While the United States faces manmade terror, nature's terror has profoundly altered the political landscape of the Caribbean, especially in Cuba.

The United Nations' World Food Program was already sending food aid to Central America after years of irregular rain, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. Much aid could not reach the victims this time. Roads were out. Fuel was unavailable for trucks and motor boats. Helicopters were grounded by rain.

With agriculture wrecked and the land altered, Nicaragua and neighboring countries need new forms of aid. These include irrigation, social support networks, anti-erosion projects and mingling crops with forestry. Not to recover from the last catastrophe but to prepare for the next one.

With one-third of its sugar crop damaged, the world's largest citrus operation wrecked, thousands of houses destroyed, tourism off and electric power curtailed, Cuba's economy was left reeling.

But the first need was food. Cuba proceeded to buy $20 million worth of wheat, corn, vegetable oil and other products from three giants of U.S. agribusiness, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Riceland Foods.

South Florida took the first U.S. sales to Communist Cuba in stride. Fidel Castro praised Washington for speeding the permits. All sides solemnly excused the business deals for compelling humanitarian reasons and agreed that a commercial relationship had not begun. If you want to believe them.

Let no one wish for another hurricane. The lesson for lawmakers in Havana and Washington and economic developers in Central America and New York should be to make sensible policies without needing nature's terror first.

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