HAVANA TIMES — Cuba has been badly wounded by Hurricane Irma, which swept across the island’s entire northern coast, destroying homes, laying waste to harvests and tourism infrastructure, severely damaging the national energy system and killing 10 Cubans.
It hit along the northern coastline where most of Cuba’s economic, industrial and mining infrastructure is located. Five of the country’s seven thermoelectric plants, nickel mines and the main gas and oil extraction areas are located there.
The island’s three main tourist destinations – Havana, Varadero and the northern cays – are also within the disaster area. Jose Luis Fraser, the assistant director of Pullman hotels, claimed that damages at his hotel in the cays exceeded 50%.
Some people blame the US Blockade for Cuba’s economic difficulties and other people blame the socialist system’s flaws but the truth is that hurricanes and storms have resulted in 24 billion USD in losses over the past 16 years, that’s without counting losses as a result of Hurricane Irma.
This time, electricity services will be restored very slowly as the damages are spread out across the island and it’s impossible to send out mass brigades from the electric company from other regions, like what normally happens when a hurricane hits 1 or 2 provinces in the country.
The national economy has been shaken to the core; it will need time and money to recover. This catastrophe has taken place in the middle of a difficult financial situation and not long before the high peak season of international tourism begins.
Up until now, kind words and wishes from nearly all over the world have spilled in but there has been very little material aid. Plus, the root of the problem won’t be fixed with a few tons of powdered milk and a couple of thousand sheets of roofing material.
These “first aid materials” are crucial in reducing the Cuban people’s suffering but the economy needs to get back up on its feet. The tourism, nickel and farming industries, energy systems and oil and gas extraction need to be at full production.
Cuba won’t be able to get back up on its feet if the noose of old foreign debt isn’t loosened slightly, as it was already suffocating the country before the catastrophe when it had to pay back billions of dollars every year. The logical thing to do would be for Havana and Brussels to ask the Paris Club for a year’s grace period.
The United States, which is also a member of this Club, has taken a first step but in a negative direction. The US Department of State has asked its citizens not to travel to the island, especially to the northern coast, where the island’s main tourist resorts are.
This would be a good opportunity for Europe to prove that its concern for the wellbeing of “ordinary Cubans” is real. Showing solidarity in the wake of this catastrophe wouldn’t cost them a cent, it would only involve waiting a few months before getting paid.
The Cuban government could also lighten up Customs restrictions on food and medicine. Likewise, how about no taxes so that those affected can receive the things they lost from abroad if a friend or relative sends it to them?
A 40m2 house can be covered with 20 sheets of fiberglass and plastic roofing material (0.82 x 2.44), which would imply a cost of just 200 USD, plus shipping. This is just an example but there must be many other options to supply those affected.
All Cubans need to be allowed to import building materials to repair their homes, given the fact that half of homes are in a poor state. The greater number of deaths as a result of this hurricane was because of buildings collapsing.
People have lots of ideas and they need to be collected, based on the fact that this time everyone needs to pull their weight in order to move forward. And, according to what the government itself has said, any person affected who is able to resolve their situation on their own will be one less problem for the country.
President Raul Castro has promised that “the Revolution won’t leave anyone helpless” and that no Cuban family will be “left to their own fate.” It will take a lot of efficiency, imagination and mental flexibility in order to make this promise a reality.