Disasters Like Irma Demand a New Focus for Cuba

By Alberto N Jones

Precarious housing. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The radical political and social changes that took place in Cuba are about to celebrate their 58th anniversary, which also transformed the summery and lethargic city of yesteryear’s Miami into Latin American’s vibrant and cosmopolitan point of entry that it is today.

Thanks to Cuba, once again, the most powerful hurricane to visit our region in 85 years altered its course a little to the west, thereby saving Miami and the highly-populated eastern Florida coast from the worse of the hurricane’s fury.

Even so, the damage that Florida suffered is substantial. Thousands of people have lost everything, many others remain in the dark with uncertain futures. These natural disasters are an integral part of our geographical location, where names such as 1922 Hurricane, Flora, George, Sandy and now Irma, will be remembered for their destructive force.

Cuba has received a mortal blow, after 80% of its national territory was relentlessly lashed at for 72 hours. The Cuban people, forged by adversity, struggle and resistance, are looking to recover their lives.

Small and large countries, ideologically linked or not, rich and poor, near and far, have lent out their helping hand to the Cuban people and have promised to help within their means. However, the United States hasn’t had the shame or the dignity to express a single word of encouragement for the suffering people of Cuba.

Hurricane Irma sweeping through the Caribbean is the climax of a series of similar disasters that have taken their anger out on Cuba, the Caribbean, Central American and North America, where they have left a trail of destruction, devastation and deaths in their wake, which are then followed by heroic rescue, recovery and rebuilding attempts until the next storm comes, thereby repeating this never-ending vicious cycle of destruction and reconstruction.

Cuba has the best Civil Defense system in the region and that makes it a model to follow.  Nevertheless, while we should applaud past achievements, we should also reassess statistics at the same time and focus more on prevention efforts, which are consistent with the idea of getting rid of thousands of rickety homes which need to be replaced with solid frame houses, which are hurricane-proof, thereby putting an end to this ritual of eternal reconstruction.

Current technology allows us to have this without having to replicate the Spanish forts which have resisted these attacks for over 500 years.  For a start, paying every Cuban citizen a wage they deserve; the State giving up on wanting to resolve the housing deficit; urbanizing and decongesting overcrowding in cities; establishing strict building codes, and encouraging self-built homes are some worthy goals.

Cuba doesn’t need any country’s consent to forge its own destiny, even more so when hundreds of thousands of its children are living abroad and are willing to support their crippled brothers and sisters with material means. This would mean that Cuban Customs need to revise their practices, eliminating the strict retention limit that stops medicine, medical supplies, instruments, reagents, equipment, tools, transport means, food, etc. from entering the country. This would allow Customs to keep its function as the country’s first line of defense, while this would also become the country’s great supplier and an important source of duty revenue.

Demorara? buen tiempo en recobrar su imagen el pueblo pesquero de Caibarién. Foto: Yariel Valdés González /Periodismo de Barrio
It will take a good while for the fishing town of Caibarien to recover. Photo: Yariel Valdes Gonzalez / Periodismo de Barrio

The devastation that Irma caused should serve as a catalyst to loosen the bureaucratic standstill at the Mariel Special Development Zone which is destined to be the leaping board for national progress.

Coordination efforts need to be better managed between organizations and ministries so as to prevent Customs from not allowing internal combustion chain saws from entering the country while the Ministry of Agriculture is making a call to clear the 28% of Cuba’s fertile land which is covered by marabu bush and convert it into charcoal for exportation.

One doesn’t explain why Cuba doesn’t reduce its dependence on imported fuel either, because of restrictions placed on tricycles, cars and other electric transport vehicles entering the country which don’t pollute the environment.

Cuba needs to immediately open up its doors to sea transport and Ferry lines already approved by the United States, where it could make up for huge national material needs in a matter of hours, not in weeks like what happens with trade from Europe and Asia.

Cuba urgently needs to revise and amend recent regulations on sending donations to the country, which have frustrated and disappointed thousands of Cuba’s loyal friends, who have seen many humanitarian projects die out.

At risk of being stigmatized for writing, suggesting or putting ideas forward from abroad to improve the country’s socio-economic situation like Marti, Varela, Juan Gualberto Gomez, Fidel and others once did, I will continue to do this in spite of my powerlessness to implement any of these.

My unpayable debt of gratitude to Cuba, which received my grandparents who came from Kingston, Jamaica, as its own at the beginning of the last century, provided my children, grandson and myself with an education, won’t let me sit with my mouth shut because of alleged reprimands and reprisals.

Irma needs to be the detonator that redirects our direction, vision and goals of what Cuba needs to have, in order to continue to be the Lighthouse and Guide of the Third World.

Cuba has to let go of the trifles it has with self-employment and building cooperatives.  Instead, it should be promoting, encouraging and widening these services and others, even with their flaws, -as if those that plague and corrupt state-owned companies didn’t exist-, because these emerging forms of work are the benchmarks of service and quality that Cuba demands.

  • Wellwisher

    With the necessary authorisation from the cuban side, ferry traffic could commence in question of days. The (improvised) infrastructure exists on both sides. This has been proven by countless trips from cruise lines, private boats and even some comercial boats the size of ferries. Look at some AIS marine traffic sites!

  • Ginni

    I can’t believe that chain saws are forbidden in CUBA, when at this time there is a dire need for same. Mr. Castro, you need a Reality Check on Priorities for the Cuban People to recover from IRMA? Tarps to protect the damaged homes for people preferring to remain on their property. Where are the building material supplies that are so much needed? Cubans could be employed to help rebuild in so many places not just harvesting Marabu bush.

    • cliffbeck

      “Where are the building material supplies that are so much needed?” Considering the fact that the “Embargo” (Blockade) imposed on Cuba prevents many country’s from providing these materials to the Cuban government, I find the question, posed by Ginni, to be very disingenuous, or, at the least, very mis-informed about the cause of hardships to the average Cuban citizen.