It is not an overstatement. This is the general expression of many compatriots. It was the impression of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Alvaro Lopez Miera, an experienced soldier, when he saw the twisted steel towers, the shattered houses and the devastation everywhere in the Isle of Youth.
Footage of Hurricane Gustav (external link)
“It has been a hard blow; I couldn’t even imagine it,” Ana Isa Delgado, the Party secretary and president of the Defense Council in that important municipality, said in a voice that was hoarse but steady and resolute. “I’ve never seen anything like it in the almost 50 years I’ve lived here!” said an astounded resident. A young soldier getting out of an amphibious vehicle shouted, “Let’s demonstrate that we are ready to give our lives for the people!”
In Herradura, looking at the devastation all around him, Army Corps General Leopoldo Cintra Frías shared his admiration for and amazement at the people’s courage and said, “This is like seeing a nuclear explosion.” He came close to seeing one in Southwest Angola, if the South African racists had decided to drop one of the seven bombs supplied them by the U.S. government on the Cuban-Angolan forces. That was a calculated risk, however, and the most convenient tactics were adopted.
Polo was accompanied by Olga Lidia Tapia, Party first secretary and president of the Provincial Defense Council, who never doubted for a second the results of the efforts and determination of her compatriots.
In all honesty, I daresay that the photos and film footage shown on national television on Sunday reminded me of the desolation I saw when I visited Hiroshima, victim of the first nuclear strike in August 1945.
With good reason, it is said that hurricanes release an enormous amount of energy, equal, perhaps, to thousands of nuclear weapons like the ones used on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It would be worthwhile for a Cuban physicist or mathematician to do the relevant calculations and make a comprehensible presentation.
Now the battle lies in feeding the hurricane’s victims. The difficulty does not lie in reestablishing electricity as soon as possible. The problem in the Isle of Youth is that only two of 16 bakeries — all equipped with electric ovens and generators — were able to operate immediately; the buildings had been severely damaged. They needed to receive bread or crackers. The amount of roofing and other materials needed for housing at this time is enormous. And the Isle of Youth is separated from the main island by the sea. It’s not enough to fill up trucks with food and material to send there directly.
Our Armed Forces have sent airfield and land and air transport specialists. Day and night, with the help of generators, planes can land on the Isle of Youth’s airports. Their mission is to wage a battle for the people without wasting any resources. They will act with the same spirit in devastated areas of Pinar del Río (province). All agencies and institutions have their assigned tasks; they are all important. But goods do not come out of the blue. Sharing involves sacrifice. Let’s not give ourselves the luxury of forgetting this in a few days.
Adverse events should serve to make us work more efficiently every day and for rationally and fairly using every piece of material. We must fight against our own shallowness and selfishness. One hundred million dollars signifies just nine dollars per inhabitant, and we need much more. We need 30 times, 40 times that figure just to meet our most basic needs. That effort must come from the work of our people. Nobody can do it for us.
Obviously, our capacity to disseminate news has increased and our people, who know how to read and write, are also highly educated.
Kcho, the painter, went by plane to the Isle of Youth, his birthplace, and sent us a letter about the high morale of his compatriots. These are a few paragraphs:
“It seemed important to me, after arriving on the island and seeing with my own eyes and feeling with my body everything that was happening, to get in touch with Richard so that you could know about the terrible situation in this special municipality.
“I have no words to express the reality of what I saw yesterday in the Isle of Youth. In all my 38 years, I have never seen anything like it and the people I talked to in my province have never seen anything worse, but incredibly, their morale is still sky-high… Many have lost their homes and almost everyone’s belongings, beds, mattresses, TV sets, refrigerators, etc., are ruined. Most of the population is in this situation; it is estimated that of the 25,000 homes on the island — and this is not the final figure — some 20,000 have been affected to some extent, and half of those 20,000 have no roofs or are totally destroyed.
“…The brigade of 52 electrical line workers from Camagüey worked until 3 a.m. and started work again today at 6:30 a.m. with tremendous determination. They are expecting another group of 60-plus workers from Holguín…
“… There are still many unresolved problems, such as houses that were destroyed by Hurricane Michelle in 2001.
“There are serious problems with food… The island is like a prison right now, precisely because it is an island, even though flights have resumed… Money has no value because there is nothing to buy and nowhere to go to buy anything.
“Human solidarity is the most important thing right now. Morale is high but that will not last forever; it will be necessary to resolve some things in the coming days. As electric power is reestablished, (it would be good to) create information points where people can gather to learn about what is going on in the country and the municipality, or just to listen to music or spend some time together.
“Right now the province is ‘a theater of military operations during a truce,’ where people are happy because they’re still alive, and not thinking much about having lost their belongings. They are trying to save what’s left and adjusting to that new situation, but as the days go by their morale may fall and they could become depressed.
“…The conditions in the hospital are subhuman, and only the determination and convictions of revolutionary men and women are making it function.
“Pineros (the people of the Isle of Youth) are revolutionary and combative and everybody is working tirelessly (patients, relatives and medical personnel). The 32 patients requiring hemodialysis — each accompanied by a relative and nurses — arrived in the capital yesterday at approximately 4:00 p.m. They had spent 48 hours without treatment but they were doing fine.
“The morale of the pineros is high, and they are happy with the work being done by the corresponding institutions, and by the fact that not one human life was lost in Pinar del Rio, the Isle of Youth or Matanzas.
“I think that for the Isle to return to what it was will take a lot of time with work and a lot of resources, as if it were a province, because now, everything is devastated.”
With his letter, he (Kcho) sent eloquent photos of the devastation. On the envelope, he drew an outline of the Isle of Youth with a Cuban flag flying.
The excellent painters who have always accompanied our battles of ideas might leave a record of this episode and encourage our people in their epic struggle.
Orfilio Pelaez in the Granma (newspaper) told us about a hurricane that hit in 1846 with a record minimum pressure of 916 hPa registered by a machine. That happened 162 years ago, when there was no radio, television, movies, Internet or many other means of communication that sometimes clash, creating chaos in our minds.
The Cuban population at that time was at least 12 times smaller. Using slave and semi-slave labor, the country exported the largest amount of sugar and coffee for a considerable part of that century. Retirement did not exist, life expectancy was much lower, and the illnesses of old age were almost unknown, as was mass education, which is so much needed for the development of so many brains and brawn. Natural resources were abundant. Hurricanes had a big impact but did not signify a national disaster. Climate change, quite far-off, was not even a subject of discussion.
In the Granma (newspaper) of today, Tuesday, the same journalist tells us about the heroic feats of our people in their battle for recuperation, and the fruits of efforts made in recent years. For his part, Rubiera, the scientist, made a detailed observation of the ruins of the Meteorology Institute facilities in Paso Real de San Diego during his tour of Pinar del Rio; he saw how the wind-measuring equipment registered 340 kilometers (per hour) when it was destroyed by strong gusts of wind. It was been announced that he will speak as part of the “Roundtable” (TV/radio program) today. He has theories about what happened.
Juan Varela, for his part, has reported on damage to the largest agricultural farm in Güira de Melena, Habana province. This farm should have produced about 140,000 tons of root vegetables, grains and green vegetables this year. As I see it, losses in work time, food products, farming and irrigation equipment, fuel and other costs, at international prices, total millions just at that enterprise.
However, the most impressive event, because of the human drama portrayed, was reported by journalist Alfonso Nacianceno and photographer Juvenal Balan: the odyssey of the five crew members of the Langostero 100 (lobster boat) from Batabanó in Habana province. These workers had been ordered back to port like all the other fishing boats, in due time. By pure chance, they were delayed. On Saturday, as the hurricane was quickly advancing, communication with them was lost. I had said in two previous reflections: “We’re lucky to have a Revolution! No citizen will be abandoned to his fate.”
I found out the lobster boat was incommunicado on Saturday, almost at midnight. Raúl had given me news of the situation; he was confident in the fishermen’s experience in dealing with storms and hurricanes. He told me that at dawn, he would send the necessary resources to find them. As soon as the weather improved, the search started; it eventually involved 36 boats, three helicopters and two planes for almost two days. There was no trace of the (lobster) boat, but they found the shipwrecked men. What they describe is incredible; whoever is familiar with the sea knows what it means to spend endless hours hanging on to an oar and then a buoy.
The revolutionary miracle happened and the fishermen were rescued.
But let’s not get carried away by illusions. This hurricane has left behind 100,000 homes hit to a lesser or greater extent and the almost total loss of things needed after a tragedy, as Kcho explains in his letter.
How many safe, hurricane-proof homes does Cuba need? No less that 1.5 million houses for a total of 3.5 million families. Let’s estimate what it would cost internationally for such an investment according to figures used worldwide.
A family in Europe has to pay at least $100,000, plus interest, for which they contribute $700 per month of their income for l5 years. Ten billion dollars is the approximate cost of 100,000 homes for average-size families in the developed countries, which are the ones that determine the prices of industrial and food products in the world. To this, we must add the cost of social facilities that were affected and must be rebuilt, economic facilities and those required for development.
It is only from our work, I repeat, that the resources will come. While the new generations are carrying out this task, the men and women of this country need the solidarity, courage and combativeness shown by the people of Pinar del Río and the Isle of Youth.
The empire is going through a difficult test at this time, in the second half of the year, involving its ability to deal with the difficulties brought about by its lifestyle at the expense of other peoples. Now they need a change at the wheel.
Bush and Cheney have almost been left out of the Republican campaign for being warmongers and undesirables. There is no debate about changing the system; it is about how to preserve it at a lesser cost.
Developed imperialism will end up killing everyone trying to enter its territory to become wage slaves and have something to eat. It is already doing so. The chauvinism and egotism generated by that system is huge.
We know that and we will continue developing solidarity, our greatest resource within and outside of our country.
Fidel Castro Ruz
September 2, 2008