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The Cuban Regime Made Hurricane Irma’s Impact Far Worse Than It Should Have Been

By: Nelson Rodríguez Chartrand - Sep 14, 2017, 10:17 am
Las calles de La Habana reflejan décadas de desinversión. (Flickr)
The flooded streets of Havana. (Flickr)

EspañolAs readers already know, Hurricane Irma hit Cuba several days ago, and because most places are still without power, I  had to cross Havana to write this piece.

In fact, I am sending this article to the PanAm Post in bits and pieces, as I only have internet access for two hours at a time at an embassy running on a generator. I hope that the final product will be clear to the reader. My resources are limited, as is the case with technology in Cuba in general, although the situation has been made far worse by the storm.

Antes del huracán, ya eran precarias las construcciones.
Hurricane damage (/PanAmPost)

These photographs are from a neighborhood outside of Santa Fe in the Plaza municipality, where the homes are often in very poor condition, and thus could not survive the hurricane-force winds.

Antes del ciclón, las casas ya perdieron las latas.
Even before the cyclone, many houses were already missing their tin roofs or doors. (Photos: PanAmPost).

Since midday of September 9, neighbors were reinforcing their roofs with tile and tin plating. Heavy winds began around 6 p.m. Some residents who lived through the worst conditions weathered the storm in the house of their neighbor Mara, as she has a home with a better structural foundation. Still, the electricity was cut off when the winds picked up.

Las instalaciones eléctricas precarias no resistieron.
The precariously installed electrical systems did not hold up. (Photos: PanAmPost)

On the morning of September 10, you could still feel gusts of wind, there were uprooted trees, and damaged roofs. Many walls and fences were partially or fully destroyed.

Cercas perimetrales destruidas.
Destroyed fences (Photo: PanAmPost).

Even on Sunday, September 10, there was no electricity. Due to buildings’ instability, many neighbors stayed on the road, what proved to be the coolest place away from the mosquitoes that resulted from so much flooding.

“Mom, are we going to sleep here?” asked five-year old Yoami, as her father put sheets on my floor for them to sleep. I’d offered them my bed they wouldn’t accept.

I asked myself if the children or grandchildren of dictators were suffering in the same conditions. Obviously not — those people are taken care of. In the neighborhood of Santa Ana, I did not see any government authority concerned about them.

Housing in many parts of the country is deplorable, but the state is unconcerned. When natural disasters strike, it begins to do its proselytizing work to keep a clean image.

On the radio you hear things like, “the government and the party will not leave the people helpless,” but by the end of 2012, Hurricane Sandy smashed the eastern provinces and there are still many homeless who have not recovered, due in part to a lack of state aid.

In the Santa Fe clinic, many people gathered to spend the night. It had electricity, so they could charge their phones, but also safe conditions away from flooding, mosquitos and looting. Of course, the police were present, apparently to maintain order, as they always are in this dictatorship.

So here we remain, with scarce resources for rebuilding our lives at the mercy of rulers who offer little or no help in the process. They’ve done more damage to this country than a hurricane ever could.

Mamela Fiallo Flor contributed to this report.

Nelson Rodríguez Chartrand Nelson Rodríguez Chartrand

Nelson Rodríguez Chartrand is a Cuban lecturer, co-founder of the Libertarian Library Benjamin Franklin, and a lawyer graduated but not allowed to practice by the regime in Cuba.