HAVANA TIMES — Many people are wondering what the real situation is in the city of Santiago de Cuba a month after it being hammered by Hurricane Sandy.
As is logical, the official reports speak only of “major steps forward” in the restoration and recovery of this eastern Cuban city. It’s also worth noting that although the authorities have worked tirelessly, and are continuing to work in this sense, the state of repair is far from the optimal conditions announced by the media.
The Civil Defense Council is still active in the province since the completion of the recuperation phase has not yet been declared. There also remain trees, giant roots and debris on many streets (especially in the low-income and outlying areas).
Electric service has returned for the most part, but not entirely, with street lighting only having been restored along the most central streets and avenues. Problems with telephone service also persist.
Post-Sandy Santiago doesn’t seem the same, not only because of its streets now being scorched by the blazing tropical sun (which the city’s once abundant trees prevented), nor is it different just because its cathedral domes are gone, and nor is it because of the innumerable building collapses.
Santiago doesn’t seem to be same because something has changed in its people.
There are various opinions about the social impact of Sandy’s winds.
In the first few hours after the disaster, and days later, several arrests were made of unscrupulous individuals who had used the incident to loot shops, markets, schools and other facilities.
In the midst of the hardship and chaos of the first several days, other people were charged with selling groceries and other necessities (i.e. bread and candles) at inflated prices on the black market.
As for the government, within weeks it began selling building materials for the homes that were damaged. As could be expected, the people who were suffering the most were those with the lowest incomes and living in the most sub-standard housing.
Complaints by the public became enormous, rising to a deafening cry, when we were told that construction materials would be sold at the same prices as under normal conditions (for example: one sheet of corrugated fiber-cement roofing was to go for 105 pesos and one sheet of corrugated tin roofing for 500 pesos – keeping in mind that a worker’s average monthly income is around 400 pesos).
People would have to ask for credit to pay for those materials and later gradually pay these loans off out of their already woefully inadequate wages.
It seems that the mass discontentment with that proposition was heard loudly and clearly by the authorities, who decided that the government would cover 50 percent of the costs of those purchases – a measure that has calmed things down a bit.
Food distribution is another tricky issue in Santiago. Following Hurricane Sandy, news broadcasts featured the host of air deliveries into Santiago from various countries bringing humanitarian aid, mainly food shipments. But it is one thing what they show on TV and another, very different thing that actually reaches the tables of Santiagoans.