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Luis Rondon Paz: Originally from Santiago de Cuba, I’m an activist, queer, computer expert, actor, photographer, student and aspiring reporter. I think people are life projects that are constantly changing. I'm usually pretty stubborn, and I consider myself a consistent person and responsible for my actions. I’m committed to just causes and am a lover of good deeds.

Havana Post-Irma and What’s on the Horizon

September 14, 2017 |

Luis Rondon Paz

HAVANA TIMES — Starting on Monday, Havana has begun to recover. Some areas already have electricity which some people can enjoy and parks with WIFI connections have begun to fill with people, except for Havana’s Malecon seawall area because all the antennas were removed in anticipation of the winds and sea surge.

That same day, I visited some friends who live a few meters away from the Malecon and it was very sad to see just how many people had lost nearly everything. Many didn’t think the sea level would rise so much and had left their clothes and their electrical appliances at home. A serious mistake because everything was consumed by the tide which, according to what friends told me, was higher than the one that came several years ago when Havana was hit by the famous “storm of the century.”

“Luisi, I couldn’t even touch the ground in my apartment, in order to get to the second floor of the building where I was given shelter out of solidarity, I had to swim because my feet didn’t reach the ground. I think that if I had stayed there surrounded by so much dark, foul-smelling water for five more minutes, I would have had a panic attack!” claimed Susana showing me the mark on the wall of up to where the water came into her home.

“Well, at least you could save the fridge and the TV, and the most important thing: your lives so you can start over!” I answered trying to encourage her.

“Do you think that there is hope for us to start over in a country full of misery and needs, with the crap income we earn, and to top that all of, without family abroad to help us out? It’s better to tell me that we will keep on pretending until a real miracle comes along,” she told me.

It doesn’t make sense to encourage them, both my friends and the majority of people who live around Havana’s Malecon. They are in a state of shock, I told myself and so I chose to keep them company on their walk about the neighborhood to look for food and drink.

While walking down Calzada, an important street of Vedado, the stench of dead fish mixed with mud and sewage water was really strong. It was if we were living out an epic movie but in slow motion, the details on some people’s fallen faces, you could note the fakeness in their smiles hiding their pain and the derangement of those not-so-young people who cleared out puddles over and over again like robots only for them to always fill up again because there was still a surge.

Aside from this sad landscape, there were basic items on sale for different prices: Salted crackers for 60 CUP per packet, smoked chicken for 25 CUP per slice, soup for 3 CUP in a cup, and two kinds of rice; with chicken for 8 CUP and with sausages for 5 CUP per box. These last three products were the most sought-after as their price was more in keeping with the disaster situation that they were living. (1 USD = 20 CUP)

“Thank God you came with me because we wouldn’t have eaten tonight,” Susana’s partner pointed out, who warned that when got to a kiosk they were selling up to five portions of food out to each person. We were three people, so we bought four portions each; it was enough for them to have lunch and for their households to have something to eat before nightfall.

On the way back home, I thought about everything I had seen with great sadness. Imagining the situation that so many people found themselves in, who had lost everything because of the disaster, imagining their future because I think they will join the long waiting list of people who have been living in shelters for years waiting for a solution. Because the reality is that Cuba is a country with very little resources and the few resources it has will be directed at recovering one of the foundations of the Cuban economy: Tourism.

Unfortunately, the Cuban production system is still in a rut, in a situation where the great majority of the Cuban people don’t generate income for the gross domestic product, as a result of the external blockade and an internal blockade which is sustained by bureaucracy, closed mindedness and many leaders’ arrogance, as well as their poor management and administration of the country’s human resources.

The country will slowly return to normal. Although I fear that after Hurricane Irma, what’s lying on the horizon won’t be very pleasant at all.

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  • Carlyle MacDuff

    Just a question! Luis Rondon Paz says that 20 CUP = 1 US dollar. Since when?

    • editorht

      Its an approximation if you change 1 USD and they give you 0.87 CUC that’s about 20 CUP.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        Ah! its the 10% plus the charge of 3% for exchange. But the CUC is still based upon being the equivalent of 1 US dollar.

        • lrpcuba

          exactly!

  • While that .87 CUC rate is “official” it is used only by new tourists from the US who bring dollars and go to a cadeca. That represents an insignificant portion of US dollars converted to CUC or CUP. Even a good number of new US tourists bring Euros, Canadian, or Sterling to avoid that 10% tax on US at a cadeca.

    There seems to be around $1.5 billion sent to Cuba by Western Union where $1.00 sent in the US converts to .97CUC when picked up by the Cuban recipient.

    Then there is another around $1.5 Billion carried to Cuba in US$100 bills by US residents going to visit family and other US’ers who are knowledgeable return visitors. These are all exchanged in unofficial street transactions for 90-92 CUC depending on the day and negotiating skills. This rate was right at 95 CUC for several years but has slipped in the last few months.

    And some Cubans can get 25 CUP for a CUC instead of the bank rate of 24 CUP by dealing with an acquaintance who works at a Panamericana or TRD where they have both currencies in the register.