Cuba’s Critical Observatory Joins in Disaster Relief Collections

By Isbel Diaz Torres

Destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in Santiago de Cuba. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — The Critical Observatory Network (OC), announced that the organization will begin collecting humanitarian aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy in the east of the island.

The call, which describes the “bleak landscape” in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Holguin and Guantanamo, appeals to people to make donations of “materials of all types (medicine, clothes, shoes, canned or dried food, tools and household utensils).”

The OC — using its own resources and operating outside of the official channels recently proposed by the government on the island — will transport the aid to certain localities (yet to be determined), where it will provide aid directly to families and individuals in need.

The network noted that in Cuba “there are still homeless families who lost their residences during the hurricanes of 2008,” therefore it criticized “the triumphalist emphasis proclaimed in the local media” describing the progress of the recovery.

European Commission experts, who are on the ground assessing the situation and identifying needs for assistance, have confirmed that about 3 million people were affected by storm that hit the island on October 24 and 25.

“We are announcing our decision to pursue this approach by physically traveling there and sharing our strength and spirit with those who are now going through a very difficult time,” reads the statement, adding that a OC delegation will go there to work with the victims.

According to the appeal, this citizens’ network has proposed being more than a “merely intellectual construct” and is distancing itself from the “usual welfaristic approach” that is commonly seen in such situations.

The Cuban media have recognized losses of more than $2 billion dollars, a situation that “transcends” the capabilities of OC; however the organization has decided to call “on all individuals and/or groups within or outside the island who decide to join in and collaborate.”

In addition to these resources, the message calls on people who are “willing to travel and work for a short period of time” with the delegation.

Moreover, it was learned last week through a statement read on national television that the island’s government is now only able to subsidize fifty percent of the costs of building materials sold to affected families; in the past, such assistance was provided free of charge.

For that reason, the OC will also collect funds “that will either be given in cash to those affected or will be used to purchase materials and/or tools, which are in short supply in the east.”

Other sources of solidarity

Since late October, even opposition activists inside and outside the island have made high-profile announcements in support of collections and called on the support from the emigrant community and foreign governments.

The Havana city government has also turned to channeling institutional and civic donations with the help of mass organizations such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Federation of Cuban Women.

The government did not state whether the in-kind donations coming in from national and international sources would be given or sold to the victims.

The governmental Council of the Havana Provincial Administration created two bank accounts for cash donations in both CUP and CUC currencies, where “people may deposit the donations they wish to make.”

Other civil society actors have developed similar proposals, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, the Council of Churches of Cuba, the “Faith for Cuba” ecumenical network, the Network of Popular Educators, the Cuban Journalists Association, and the School of Communications at the University of Havana.

International assistance has also been extensive. Among the nations that have sent humanitarian aid by airplane and boats to the island are included Venezuela, Russia, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Japan, Colombia, Chile and Norway.