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U.S. Aid To Cuba Restored

A chartered plane lifted off Thursday for Havana, the first flight in two years to carry humanitarian aid directly from the United States to Cuba.

The DC-6 propeller plane, chartered by Catholic Relief Services and filled with a shipment of about $800,000 worth of medicines and medical supplies, soared from the runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

"Today we have a historic step, which is the resumption of direct humanitarian flights," said Thomas Wenski, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami. Wenski, who did not go on the flight, spoke at a news conference before the takeoff.

Wenski said the direct flight and others like it in the future would help the Roman Catholic Church cut the cost of shipping aid to Cuba. In the past two years, aid has had to be shipped through indirect flights or by land to Canada, and then by boat to Cuba. That can cost four times what it costs to fly directly.

Direct charity flights to the Communist nation were halted in 1996 after Cuban planes shot down two unarmed U.S. planes. Four members of Brothers to the Rescue, a Cuban exile group based in Miami, were killed.

President Clinton lifted the ban after Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in January. During that visit, the pope asked that the world open itself to Cuba and Cuba open itself to the world.

By sending an aid flight today, Wenski said, "we are basically putting the human above political considerations."

Once in Havana, the cargo will be distributed by Caritas Cuba, the Catholic Church's relief arm in Cuba.

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