Irma, Cuba, the Paris Club and Cuban Customs

September 14, 2017 | Print Print |

By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba has been badly wounded by Hurricane Irma, which swept across the island’s entire northern coast, destroying homes, laying waste to harvests and tourism infrastructure, severely damaging the national energy system and killing 10 Cubans.

It hit along the northern coastline where most of Cuba’s economic, industrial and mining infrastructure is located. Five of the country’s seven thermoelectric plants, nickel mines and the main gas and oil extraction areas are located there.

The island’s three main tourist destinations – Havana, Varadero and the northern cays – are also within the disaster area. Jose Luis Fraser, the assistant director of Pullman hotels, claimed that damages at his hotel in the cays exceeded 50%.

Some people blame the US Blockade for Cuba’s economic difficulties and other people blame the socialist system’s flaws but the truth is that hurricanes and storms have resulted in 24 billion USD in losses over the past 16 years, that’s without counting losses as a result of Hurricane Irma.

This time, electricity services will be restored very slowly as the damages are spread out across the island and it’s impossible to send out mass brigades from the electric company from other regions, like what normally happens when a hurricane hits 1 or 2 provinces in the country.

The government should think about making building material imports available to everyone because the majority of deaths this time were a result of buildings collapsing.

The national economy has been shaken to the core; it will need time and money to recover. This catastrophe has taken place in the middle of a difficult financial situation and not long before the high peak season of international tourism begins.

Up until now, kind words and wishes from nearly all over the world have spilled in but there has been very little material aid. Plus, the root of the problem won’t be fixed with a few tons of powdered milk and a couple of thousand sheets of roofing material.

These “first aid materials” are crucial in reducing the Cuban people’s suffering but the economy needs to get back up on its feet. The tourism, nickel and farming industries, energy systems and oil and gas extraction need to be at full production.

Cuba won’t be able to get back up on its feet if the noose of old foreign debt isn’t loosened slightly, as it was already suffocating the country before the catastrophe when it had to pay back billions of dollars every year. The logical thing to do would be for Havana and Brussels to ask the Paris Club for a year’s grace period.

Let’s see if the Paris Club is able to reach out its hand to Cuba for something other than wanting to get paid.

The United States, which is also a member of this Club, has taken a first step but in a negative direction. The US Department of State has asked its citizens not to travel to the island, especially to the northern coast, where the island’s main tourist resorts are.

This would be a good opportunity for Europe to prove that its concern for the wellbeing of “ordinary Cubans” is real. Showing solidarity in the wake of this catastrophe wouldn’t cost them a cent, it would only involve waiting a few months before getting paid.

The Cuban government could also lighten up Customs restrictions on food and medicine. Likewise, how about no taxes so that those affected can receive the things they lost from abroad if a friend or relative sends it to them?

A 40m2 house can be covered with 20 sheets of fiberglass and plastic roofing material (0.82 x 2.44), which would imply a cost of just 200 USD, plus shipping. This is just an example but there must be many other options to supply those affected.

It isn’t about helping Cuba, all they need to do is to loosen the financial noose that the Paris Club and the US embargo have the country in and which is suffocating it.

All Cubans need to be allowed to import building materials to repair their homes, given the fact that half of homes are in a poor state. The greater number of deaths as a result of this hurricane was because of buildings collapsing.

People have lots of ideas and they need to be collected, based on the fact that this time everyone needs to pull their weight in order to move forward. And, according to what the government itself has said, any person affected who is able to resolve their situation on their own will be one less problem for the country.

President Raul Castro has promised that “the Revolution won’t leave anyone helpless” and that no Cuban family will be “left to their own fate.” It will take a lot of efficiency, imagination and mental flexibility in order to make this promise a reality.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Raúl has one foot out of the door at this point. The burden of rebuilding Cuba will fall on his successor.

    • Bal & Shawn Hyler

      Truth.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        Right!

  • Donald Fraser

    at this time, one tourists takes food and resources away from many Cubans

    • Moses Patterson

      One tourist, through the money they spend, BUYS the food eaten by many Cubans.

      • Donald Fraser

        only the elite connected to tourism who are already well off

        • Eden Wong

          “… only the elite connected to tourism who are already well off…”

          Only the elite? Hardly.

          There is a HUGE portion of the population who are connected to tourism by association only – they don’t make a single centavo directly themselves – but tourism is crucial to their survival.

          The “elite” you refer to support innumerable family/friends/acquaintances as well as countless local trades/services/etc.

        • Moses Patterson

          Elite? That’s a relative term in Cuba. But I take your point.

    • Eden Wong

      I disagree. Tourists don’t eat much of the food that Cubans do, almost all tourist food is imported.

      All I know is that my neighbours would LOVE to see tourists back on the street because foreigners = cash, plain and simple.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    Whereas the people of Europe and indeed other free nations, have deep sympathy for the plight of Cubans following Irma, they have little for the Dictatorship of the Castros. Those European countries with responsibilities for other countries and islands in the Caribbean, will understandably put those financial and political interests first.
    Fernando Ravsberg poses an interesting challenge for the Castro regime in saying that addressing the challenges presented will require “a lot of efficiency, imagination and mental flexibility”. Can that be expected from a bunch of geriatric generals?

    • Dan

      Che cazzo dice addesso Carlyle ? Italy, Germany, Switzerland, as far as my many year observations living in those places goes, there is pretty widespread sympathy for the Cuban Revolution among Europeans.

      • Eden Wong

        In my experience any “widespread sympathy for the Revolution” from all the countries you mentioned has been lip service only. Zero sympathy in terms of Visas, almost zero foreign aid, zero direct confrontation over the US Embargo, etc.

        In fact I can’t think of a single example of actual real support, but maybe that’s just my ignorance.

        • There is direct support in the form of $6.5 billion in foreign remittances direct to the Cuban people. NThat is 7.5% of Cuba’s total economic output (GDP) so it is a major factor.

          Now not all of that $6.5 billion comes from the US but given the relative size of the US economy vs. everyone else and the number of ex-pat Cubans in the US, one would have to conclude that the lion’s share comes from the US.

          Compare remittances to the measly $2.2 billion in total revenues from tourism which has much related costs and some resulting profits going to foreign investors and it becomes quite obvious where the real financial support comes from. Again, those remittances are direct to Cuban people, not trickle down through the government.

          • Eden Wong

            “… There is direct support in the form of $6.5 billion in foreign remittances direct to the Cuban people. NThat is 7.5% of Cuba’s total economic output (GDP) so it is a major factor…”

            I was responding to Dan’s assertion that Europe in general and Italy, Germany and Switzerland in particular are supporters of the Revolution, a statement which I see zero facts to support.

            Remittances are of course huge, but they have nothing to do with European governments offering tangible support to the Cuban Revolution.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        Eastern Europe demonstrated its view about Communism when the opportunity arose because of the implosion of the Soviet Empire. I don’t personally know any Europeans other than members of the Communist Party, who seek to emulate the Castros and have a revolution. I had sympathy for the Cuban Revolution for it initially gave the impression of being directed towards freeing the Cuban people from dictatorship and indeed Fidel Castro implied so in his early speeches. But subsequently any such intentions were thrown out and a new dictatorship took power. Fidel Castro had a lust for power and control and the Cuban people have suffered the consequences. Don’t bother to respond by mentioning medical and educational services Dan – that’s old hat!

    • Terry Downey

      “Whereas the people of Europe and indeed other free nations, have deep
      sympathy for the plight of Cubans following Irma, they have little for
      the Dictatorship of the Castros.”

      Nothing could be further from the truth. Carlyle, you’ve spoken again like the true wack-a-doodle anti-Castro propagandist that you are. If what you say is true, then explain away the almost unanimous annual vote denouncing the US economic embargo on Cuba and her government at the UN. btw, until you grow up and stop spreading your nonsensical anti-Castro propaganda at every opportunity (even in the midst of this hurricane tragedy), you can forget about ever sharing a cerveza with me in Camagüey city or anywhere. I only share cervezas with open-minded people, not those perpetually locked in a McCarthyism era witch-hunt promoting falsehoods to support their twisted agenda.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        Hello Terry! You are in confusion, just because the UN records each year a vote against the US Cuba embargo of 192-2 (incidentally you may remember my own criticisms of the embargo) does not mean that those 192 nations support the Castro regime dictatorship. My views about that Castro dictatorship and detestation of Communism do not change and have not been blown away by Irma. I realise that you regard such criticisms as “nonsensical”, but your acquiesence to the methods of the Castro regime is your choice.
        You refer to “falsehoods” – from whom? You obviously do not like my comments, but they are not falsehoods, they are reality.
        By rejecting sharing a beer with those with whose opinions you differ, you will find life easier and be able to relax in smug complacency.
        Loved the term “wack-a-doodle”!

        • Terry Downey

          Carlyle, are the annual recorded votes at the UN regarding the US government’s economic embargo on Cuba not cast by each member’s government? Does the Cuban government not annually step to the podium and request the support of all UN member nation’s governments with their votes? And yet you argue that these 192 individual governments throughout the world supporting the end of the US economic embargo on Cuba are not actually “supporting” the current Cuban government? Interesting. Just a mirage? A figment of everyone’s imagination? Perhaps each of those 192 other governments, including our own, are simply confused? They do know that the Castro government is still in power in Cuba… right? You know… the communists? In what quasi-parallel universe do you exist where the rules of common sense and reality turn on their heads to better fit your twisted views and distorted argument in a vain attempt to save you further embarrassment? You do realize that YOU are the only one who is truly confused? Actually, the word delusional is a much better fit for you. Glad you liked the term “wack-a-doodle” too, but please… no further confusion on your part. I was being kind.

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            Terry, to endeavor to explain in simple terms. You may or may not be old enough to recall the furor about shops being allowed to open on Sunday. People were both for and against with many being concerned as Christians that the “Lord’s day” was being abused. But that did not mean that all those who were opposed were necessarily Christians,
            The fact that the UN recorded that 192-2 resolution does not mean that all the 192 support the communist repression in Cuba. They voted against the embargo, that is all ! Get it?
            You paint me some kind of vivid right wing blue, yet even with a limited memory you ought to be able to recall my criticisms of the US Embargo. I would have voted against it! Does that now make me now a supporter of the Castro dictatorship?
            Thank you for your kind intentions, you are so nice.

      • Eden Wong

        “… If what you say is true, then explain away the almost unanimous annual vote denouncing the US economic embargo on Cuba and her government at the UN…”

        That’s useless lip service, nothing more.

        With very few exceptions Europe has NOT put money or actions where its mouth is. Zero sympathy in terms of Visas, almost zero foreign aid, zero direct confrontation over the US Embargo, etc.

  • Maggs Carr

    This country just needs help. We give money to China, who does not need or want it. Let us as a nation send out building materials, Paris Club put the debt on hold and let Cuba get back on its feet.