HAVANA – Cuban President Fidel Castro has offered to send 100 doctors to Houston immediately to help provide medical care to residents of New Orleans who have been evacuated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Another 500 clinicians and specialists could be dispatched to Houston “or any other airport of your choosing,” by Sunday, Castro said during a TV Roundtable discussion broadcast in Havana with another 500 to follow.

The offer was relayed via e-mail to members of U.S. organizations that have traveled to Havana on commercial licenses in recent months. Members of the USA Rice Federation met with Castro during a visit to Havana to discuss potential sales of U.S. rice on Aug. 25-26.

“Our country is ready to send, in the small hours of morning, 100 clinicians and specialists in Comprehensive General Medicine, who at dawn tomorrow, Saturday, could be in Houston International Airport, Texas, the closest to the region struck by the tragedy,” Castro was quoted as saying.

“These Cuban personnel would be carrying backpacks with 24 kilograms of medications, known to be essential in such situations to save lives, as well as basic diagnosis kits. They would be prepared to work alone or in groups of two or more, depending on the circumstances, for as long as necessary.”

Castro said Cuba is also ready to send via Houston, or any other location, 500 additional specialists with the same equipment, who could be at their destination by Sunday with another 500 to follow.

“Thus, the 1,100 said medical doctors, with the resources described tantamount to 26.4 tons of medications and diagnosis kits, would be caring for the neediest persons in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina,” he said.

“These medical doctors have the necessary international experience and elementary knowledge of the English language that would allow them to communicate with the patients. We stand ready waiting for the US authorities’ response.”

During a five-and-one-half hour meeting with USA Rice Federation leaders in Castro’s offices in Havana, the Cuban president described the country’s medical training program at length.

He also showed the USA Rice delegation a map of the new network of hospitals the Cuban government has been building to serve its people. Some Cuban doctors are also being sent to Venezuela to provide medical services in that country.

That was no immediate response from U.S. officials.

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