Cuba After a Hurricane
Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García
Iván García, 6 October 2016 — One week. Perhaps two. That’s the
shelf-life of news in Cuba about the recovery process after a hurricane
has passed through. You can read information, which has a slight smell
of triumphalism, about the various teams of linesmen who re-establish
communications and power.
A gallery of moving photos of the disaster provoked by the hurricane in
Baracoa. The account is always related in military terms. As if it were
an epic battle. If you can believe the newspaper headlines, the olive
green big cheeses and first secretaries of the Communist party in the
eastern regions really got down and touched base with the people.
While they are inspecting the devastation, they promise to build strong
new houses, and they ask the people in neighbouring areas for more work
and sacrifice, and tell them they can be absolutely sure that “the
revolution will never abandon them”. After that, the news focus fades.
Then the state scribblers turn to concentrate on the starting of the new
sugar harvest or in the “innumerable production successes”, which can
only be effectively conveyed in the black ink of the national and
The human drama starts up precisely on the day after a natural
catastrophe terminates. Ask any of the 35 families who are surviving in
precarious conditions in a big old dump of a place in the town of Cerro.
The run-down development, number 208, is located way down in Domínguez
The authorities declared the building uninhabitable in 1969. Its
occupants have seen a dozen hurricanes pass through. As a result of the
floods of April 29, 2015, caused by torrential downpours, Raúl Fernández
lost all the electrical appliances his wife brought from Venezuela. “I
am 46 and I was born in this place. I have spent years asking for an
apartment so I can leave here and, up to now, my requests have been in
vain. The town council is well aware of the situation of the families
here and they do nothing”.
Some tenants say that the only things they have received have been foam
mattresses. “But, if we wanted them, we would have to pay, in cash or
installments. It is 900 pesos for singles and 1,400 for the bigger ones.
Government corruption. Because insurance doesn’t work, or works badly in
Cuba, people have to pay for the fuck-all that they give you — a
mattress, a rice cooker and a packet of spoons and cups, says Magaly,
who has lived in Domínguez for 20 years.
In 2015, by way of Resolution no, 143, The Ministry of Finance and
Prices put out a regulation containing the procedure for valuing,
certifying, setting prices, accounts, finance, fees, and risk and damage
management in cases of natural, health and technological disasters.
That’s to say a family which loses its possessions needs to pay for what
the state can give it at the commercial retail price level. If it can’t,
they authorise a credit which has to be repaid in accordance with the
terms set out by the bank.
Also, based on analysis of the economic situation of the victim’s
family, the Peoples’ Council, or Defence Zone, can propose to the
Municipal Council or the Municipal Defence Council, if it considers
appropriate, that the bank loan interest be partially or wholly assumed
by the public purse.
Olga, aged 71, retired, and resident in a poor area of Havana, lost an
ancient cathode ray tube television, refrigerator, saucepans, rice
boiler and all her clothing.
“After an interminable paper-chase and standing in queues for hours,
where I had to demonstrate that I only have my pension to live on, they
gave me an airbed, some extra-large size used clothes, a half-broken
rice boiler, a refrigerator motor, for which I had to pay a mechanic 500
pesos to install. For a year I have had to listen to TV soaps on the
radio. And the number one item in the political propaganda is about
Civil Defence performance, which is good for saving lives, but as for
repairing the damage suffered by the victims, the government does
nothing”, says Olga.
There are families like Jorge Castillo’s, who live in a shabby room in
an old lodging house in the south of Havana, turned into a hostel for
victims, who have put up there for fourteen years waiting for a home.
“That was the time of the tropical storm Edward in 2002. Imagine waiting
until the people came from Santiago, having lost their homes in Cyclone
Sandy in 2012 and now the people from Baracoa after Matthew passed”,
On 25 October, 2012, Barrio Rojo, in Mar Verde, Santiago de Cuba, nearly
1000 km east of Havana, was wiped off the map by the destructive 175 kph
gusts of wind of Hurricane Sandy.
“Mar Verde is a community which has been officially recognised since
1981. It is located on the beach of the same name, forms part of the
Agüero-Mar Verde Peoples’ Council, which covers 62.5 square kms and is
District 47 out of the 277 which constitute the town of Santiago de
Cuba. There is no postal service there, shops, farmers’ markets,
pharmacies, schools or grocery stores. Only a family medical consultancy
offering a basic service, reports the journalist Julio Batista in a
shocking article published in Periodismo de Barrio last February.
Thirty one families, 85 persons in total, who lost their homes
during Hurricane Sandy, live in little shacks in a poor old campsite
where the water comes through the pipes only every 10 or 11 days.
The authorities have promised to let them have a group of new houses.
But it’s a never-ending tale. First they said in December 2014 they
would hand over the keys to 56 of the 250 homes. Then, in December 2015.
Now, according to Julio Batista’s report, they are talking about
finishing the works in December 2016.
But the people living in the Mar Verde campsite are sceptical. The
people who lost their properties through natural disasters, whether in
Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo or Baracoa, feel they have been
misled by the government. Or that it has not been frank with them. As if
the tragedy they are living through is nothing much.
Diario Las Américas, 7 October 2016.
Translated by GH
Source: Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García – Translating Cuba –