Scorched Earth

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Havana was already under a hurricane warning when I returned on Sunday after a tour of Pinar del Río. Rarely has it given me so much pleasure to see the elevated bridges of 100th Street and Boyeros, than after seeing the procession of structures destroyed in the west. On both sides of the highway one could see the place where winds exceeding 200 kilometers per hour passed, just in the area between Los Palacios and San Diego. The dry vegetation, doubled over in the direction of the strongest winds, and the hundreds of houses without roofs, or blown down. Even the resistant marabou weed suffered more under the hurricane than with all the well-publicized plans to eliminate it.
People mourned their fate, with their houses blown down and their childhood photos destroyed by water. A bicycle-taxi driver sent his daughters to the home of an aunt because he didn’t have the 9.70 pesos it cost for each piece of asbestos cement roofing distributed to the victims. Desolation and doubt before a future that already had the tone of shadows but now is painted, rightly, the worst shade of ochre. Crops on the ground with no insurance company responsible for them. Electrical appliances purchased in the informal market that cannot even be declared lost, because to the State they never existed.
The helplessness of the citizen before these catastrophes of weather is crushing. One hammer costs practically a month’s salary, and having boards and nails is such a luxury that they can only use a few. Only one option is left when a cyclone comes: Evacuate and leave the larger belongings to the mercy of the storm. The most difficult process for those we want to help is the absence of a civic route for sending donations to the victims. The State distribution structure cannot overcome the indolence and poor organization it demonstrates in other economic activities. Many choose to work through churches, but they lack the infrastructure and personnel to reach everywhere.
Yesterday evening, Sunday, we talked with the members of the Convivencia [Coexistence] team and other members of the nascent civil society in Pinar del Río about how to bring clothing, food and medicine to the victims. Unfortunately, all the options have been dismantled over the years in which we Cuban citizens have lost our autonomy before an overprotective and authoritarian State. If a group of people could gather aid, the problem would be transporting it to the disaster zones and distributing it without being denounced and in the end arrested. Thus, the most viable initiative is for family members abroad to send cash to their relatives in Cuba. For those of us who live on the Island and want to lend a hand, we must take it in person to the devastated areas and deliver our donations directly. “Anything helps,” a gentleman sobbing with sadness told me, while showing me his house, poverty-stricken before the cyclone and now blown down.
(Ed: You can view a few more photos right here.)
This was originally written and published in Spanish by Yoani Sanchez and translated and posted in her English version blog. Since the castro regime continues to curtail her internet access and continues to block access to her blog and other internet sites in and out of Cuba, we are posting Yoani’s work in its entirety in solidarity and to help promote and distribute same.

4 thoughts on “Scorched Earth”

  1. I must disagree with Yoani. The most viableinitiative i not sending cash, but getting the Cuba government to allow humanitarian and relief organizations and agencies into the island. Whow bring with them the infrastructure to distribute aid and repair Cuba’s infrastructure on their own.

  2. It does not have to be an either/or situation.
    Yes, the humanitarian aid should be allowed in, but the United States also should at least suspend limits on remittances and travel so family members in the U.S. can provide quick assistance to their loved ones.
    Cubans need all the help they can get, so this is not the time to continue a policy that even when the weather is good, is an embarassment to the United States.
    Otherwise, our desire to help is held hostage by the dictatorship. Some may think that is OK, for how it enhances their political position. But as long as Cubans are suffering during the current crisis, that is a morally indefensible position.

  3. Marc,
    Serioulsy man, Im starting to think you dont really see this issue clearly. Quite simply: First, if there isnt enough food and water for Cubans on the island right now, how can there be enough if more Cubans show up? The last thing any disaster area allows is more people in, period. Water and food and shelter are jsut going to magcally show up with dollars and tourists from abroad?
    Cubans need all the help they can get, so this is not the time to continue a policy that even when the weather is good, is an embarassment to the United States.
    I suppose you may see th epolicy as an embarrassment, I dont. What I see as an embarrassment is to FUND THE VERY SAME GOVERNMENT THAT IS FUCKING YOUR FAMILY.
    Otherwise, our desire to help is held hostage by the dictatorship. Some may think that is OK, for how it enhances their political position. But as long as Cubans are suffering during the current crisis, that is a morally indefensible position.
    I see you still havent fallen from the tree. EVERYTHING IS HELD HOSTAGE BY THE DICTATORSHIP. INCLUDING YOU AND ME. AND FEEDING THAT ANIMAL ONLY MAKES IT STRONGER.
    And please, dont you ever state to me that my position on this is politically motivated. I take that as an extreme insult and offense. If thats what you think of me and other folks with the wherewithall to see beyond th eregime’s platitudes and propaganda, then perhaps you are in the wrong place.
    As for Cubans suffering in the “current” crisis, what the fuck do you think theyve been doing for years? What the fuck do you sthink theylll be doing twenty years from now when we, ourselves, are economically backing, supporting and propping up the very same poeple that are the cause of their suffering?
    My God, man. Stop staring at the fucking tree and look at the fucking forest al around you.

  4. The effects of the hurricane are real, as are the effects of the regime’s intentionally increasing the hardship experienced by citizens of Cuba. Nonetheless, Cubans on the ground do need money right now, b/c there are products available for purchase, even if the regime has doubled their price. In the short-term, for those of us with loved ones still on the island, the choice is between two things: 1) sending money, as much as possible, so that they can survive the impending famine, exposure and epidemics of tropical disease that are brewing; or 2) not sending them aid in hopes that they’ll finally, finally after 50 years overthrow Castro when at this moment they are trying to survive the impending famine, exposure and epidemics of tropical disease that are brewing there.
    Excerpts from an email I received today:
    “…pues te dire que estoy en mi casa y es horrible todo lo que paso aqui,pues lo primero que no tengo colchon para dormir ni yo ni el bebe,lo segundo el niño no tiene ni que ponerse es horrible,el agua se colo por la ventana y acabo con todo…el ventilador es horrible todo esto hoy tengo que dormir en el piso con el niño yo te voy a mandar fotos de todo esta mierda el aire acondicionado callo como a 100 mts de la casa…te juro que ahora es cuando mas la nesesito [refers to “ayuda”, specifically financial assistance],mira ver si hay alguna persona o intitucion que me pueda ayudar…darle mi correo o muestrales las fotos que te voy a embiar del desastre… ayudame urgente lo necesito.”

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