Catholic Church to send first direct, non-emergency aid flight to Cuba Thursday
Web posted at: 2:10 a.m. EDT (0610 GMT)
MIAMI (CNN) -- The Catholic Church said Wednesday it will send the first direct, non-emergency humanitarian aid flight to Havana on Thursday morning since President Clinton eased restrictions with Cuba.
The Church's Catholic Relief Services is overseeing a shipment of $500,000 worth of donated medical supplies, including latex gloves, plastic syringes, bandages, and food. The goods are destined for the church's relief agency in Caritas.
The flight has been delayed for weeks, according to the church, because of difficulty in securing landing rights in Cuba. The church said it is scheduled to take off at noon EDT Thursday from Fort Lauderdale International Airport.
The direct flights are now possible since President Clinton relaxed some restrictions on travel, aid and money sent to Cuba.
The president's actions came in response to the pope's visit to Cuba in January. Clinton said he would allow direct flights from the United States to Cuba to allow limited cash remittances to Cubans and expedite licenses for U.S. pharmaceutical companies that want to sell medicines to Cuba.
After Cuba shot down two U.S.-based "Brothers to the Rescue" planes, Clinton cut off direct flights. All flights, including passengers and aid, had to travel through third countries.
Cuban Americans may legally travel to Cuba once a year for an emergency family visit. Direct passenger flights are expected to begin later this month from Miami.
Sending aid, money and travel to Cuba has always been controversial within the Cuban American community. Families are torn between helping relatives and denying dollars to Castro's government. Every year, Cuban Americans have illegally sent hundreds of millions of dollars to relatives.
The resumption of direct flights, along with cash remittances and faster procedures for medical sales, marked changes in the 36-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba that have come following Pope John Paul II's historic visit to the island in January.
It will be delivered directly to the Cuban Catholic Church's charity arm Caritas Cuba for delivery to a leper hospital and other facilities.
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