It is a natural desire -- to provide assistance to those who are in need. Cuba certainly qualifies, as a nation subjected to four decades of a trade blockade on the part of the U.S., it has proven difficult to obtain needed medicines, equipment and other products. The act of providing that assistance is also somewhat difficult. No-one wants to be the recipient of charity, and Cubans are rightly proud of their accomplishments in all aspects of their society. "Pride" and "charity" are difficult concepts to mix.
When undertaken as an act of solidarity, however, one can support Cuba without seeming to be superior to those who recieve the donations. The world owes Cuba a great debt, for its selflessness (perhaps best exemplified in the thousands of international medical workers from Cuba who give their services to Africa and Latin America) and Cuba's example which shows a society can be sustainable, provide the basics of life -and then some- without embracing the exploitive economic systems which dominate the "developing world."
Many solidarity organizations provide humanitarian donations to Cuba as an act of solidarity. The group Pastors for Peace conduct an annualCaravan to Cuba, gathering donations from all over the U.S. and Canada to be transported via Mexico. Various other groups and institutions conduct direct donation efforts with partners in Cuba such as the Ministry of Health (MINSAP), the Ministry of Educaton (MINED) and the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos (ICAP).
On an individual basis, travellers often take goods which they contribute to Cuban friends, health clinics, schools or workers at the tourist areas. When carried out with sensitivity, these donations are very much appreciated.
Travellers should be aware of new customs regulations meant to restrict the importation of goods for sale, and those goods which could be purchased inside Cuba (thus supporting the domestic economy and the government's ability to provide social services).
There are several things to keep in mind when bringing items into Cuba as donations. According to the Cuban Customs office, tourists may import:
...with relief from the payment of duties and taxes, import up to 10 kg of medicines in original packaging and readily identifiable.
Tourists are also entitled to definitively import - apart from their personal belongings - new or used articles with an overall value of $250.00 (two hundred and fifty) Pesos. Up to an amount of $ 50.00 (fifty) Pesos, the said items shall not be subject to the payment of Customs taxes. The remaining value - up to the established limit of $250.00 (two hundred and fifty) - shall be subject to the payment of Customs taxes equal to 100% (one hundred percent) of their value.
It is highly recommended that you closely examine the information available at Cuba-Advice.com to see how your plans may be affected.
Alternately, if you have friends in Cuba to whom you wish to provide financial or material support, there are other options available. In Canada, the National Bank of Canada (not to be confused with the Bank of Canada) can arrange for the transfer of cash.
To send your friends gifts of food, appliances, household hardware supplies, etc., it is recommended that you consider the online shopping service CubaSiShopping.com.