Cuba Perspective: Disaster & Human Behavior

By Armando Chaguaceda

Store in Xalapa, Mexico
Store in Xalapa, Mexico

Like any Caribbean native, many catastrophes have crossed my path. I spent my 10th birthday under the ferocious winds of Hurricane Kate; I evacuated friends from Playa Cajío devastated by hurricane Charlie in 2004; I left Cuba last September for Mexico with the terrible trio Gustav-Ike-Paloma nipping at my heels. But to witness an epidemic like Influenza H1N1 (swine flu) in a foreign land is a different experience deserving evaluation and comparison.

First there has been a noticeable, radical and extensive change in human behavior. Although Xalapa has not been strongly hit by the epidemic, prudent people are wearing facemasks, limiting their usual activities, and spending more time at home with their families. While hugs and kisses have been suspended as a form of greeting, I can’t help feel that when life returns to normality, they’ll acquire deeply erotic connotations.

To write this chronicle I left my confinement and walked around downtown on two mornings. An informed and responsible citizenry was apparent. Faced with an always precarious balance of attitudes, panic and morbidity, ignorance and apathy, the people of Xalapa have mostly exhibited public-spiritedness while waiting in line at clinics and pharmacies and by not hoarding or speculating on food and medicines. In public clinics, doctors and paramedics attend to those who may have contracted the virus. I know because the young doctor who lives with me leaves the house at the crack of dawn and returns well past midnight.

The government, crucial in times like these, has generally responded well. Beyond serving political interests, the institutions and civil servants appear to be following a coordinated plan. Resources are arriving at public and private hospitals while mass media is being used to systematically inform the public. Work, recreational, and political activities as well as public gatherings have been limited in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

Nevertheless the logic of commerce (prosperity from tragedy, profit from recourse scarcity, and gainful philanthropy) still persists on TV, in statements by businessmen, and in small daily acts of egoism. The night before last, several of my neighbors and I tried to discourage someone who-offering money-tried to hoard face masks in front of people who had been standing in line for an hour.

Hidden under the mask of a “United Mexico” and risking legal sanction, the werewolf’s hairy ears perked up and left me contemplating the complexity of human nature- as inclined to daily heroism as to the predatory law of the jungle.

In times like these, I wonder, what determines behavior: social systems, cultural traits, local circumstances, personal characteristics, or maybe a combination of them all. Inevitably I will mull it over and compare this experience with those of the past, in my country, and around the world. But, I will leave that for my next entry.

Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

2 thoughts on “<em>Cuba Perspective: Disaster & Human Behavior</em>

  • The difference between “daily heroism” and “the predatory law of the jungle” boils down to — leadership. And where to drum up that scarce commodity, eh?

  • Thank you for this very kind approach to how Mexico, has dealt with disaster.
    I hope you will return and stay as well

    I am a Cuban still here with my own family on a vacation from the US. I have seen not heard of any instances of the H1N1 flu since being here but rather much talk.
    I like yourself am willing to give of myself and to the country of my birth for no other reason than because it is right. i am a PHN public health nurse and forensic scientist who has been thru my own share of disaster in my 62 yrs from helping after 9/11 several floods, T tornadoes, hurricanes and the HONG KONG flu of the seventies.

    I have survived them all and risen to become an educ at a Univ in the southern part of the US. always reminding my students that they would do well to stay abreast of all info and educ resources because in thier lifetime they may be called upon to use what they learn.

    Back in Fla, i have spoken with family and they are not in a state of panic but rather are now seeing that there are things which they can do to lessen chances of being exposed.
    Also, i know the reasons for some of the panic and assumations about Mexico is because of the almighty wrong!! media. The media in the US is famous for the kinds of misinfo that is shared, and now that it has been revealed that the virus did not begin in Mexico but rather the US there is cake on the face of many.

    To me this is unacceptable, and they should be fired Fired for causing duress, causing fear, and overall panic in the US.. Coupled with this, there are a few on Fox/ CNN etc that should be fired for covert racist comments
    I have had many ops in my carrer for travel and have been in more than 30 countries and have seen as you have stated the excellent heath care provided in Mexico. Although, it is true that i have yet to travel inland but rather my visit was strictly to Juarez, Mexico city and across the river from Galveston Texas but i would certsainly welcome doing so.

    i am a firm believer and a practioner of Holistic medicine and in my search for same i have found that by tsking natural remedies for overall health ones resistance to airborn illness are maximized. i enjoy Costa Rico where the healing herbs are best..i wonder why that is not part of the med school curriculum?
    My goal and decision is to return back to cuba within 6mths..i would like to teach here and have made this known to the powers that be..Now i must present the same to the US (my intent)
    Would i become an exile or Ex pat? i breathe?

    Well it has been a pleasure

    Milagros V

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