Hurricanes Idalia, Ian & Elsa: No Break for Pinar del Rio

A couple remains outside their house in a flooded area of Batabano, Cuba.
Photo: AFP via Getty

By Francisco Acevedo

HAVANA TIMES – No other Cuban province has suffered more severe weather this century than Pinar del Rio, which was hit last week by Hurricane Idalia, with over 200 mm (nearly 8 inches) of rainfall, sea surges and other collateral effects.

The far-western Cuban province seems to be a magnet for meteorological phenomena, because very few of the most recent to hit the island have stayed in the eastern and central areas, all the rest have passed through different points or have skimmed Pinar: Ian in 2022, Ida and Elsa in 2021, Laura in 2020, Ike and Gustav in 2008, Alberto in 2006, Dennis and Wilma in 2005, Ivan and Charley in 2004, Lili in 2002 and a long list of others.

Far from fixing the problems left by the one before, a new hurricane comes along and continues to increase the number of victims, which figures in the thousands in this area alone, seemingly cursed by weather events.

This time, all of the heavy rains led to a loss of resources, both agricultural and civil, and the entire region was without electricity for almost a week, and there are still some areas where electricity services haven’t been reestablished. Fixed and cell phone services were also affected, as well as Internet connection services, for many days.

It’s good to note that Idalia didn’t touch Cuban soil, because if it had managed to hit the island properly, the disaster would have been a lot worse, leaving many more towns incommunicado and with more problems. But Pinar wasn’t the only one affected by Idalia, Artemisa next-door, hundreds of kilometers to the East, also suffered its onslaught.

By the way, it emerged that the Government of our dear Miguel Diaz-Canel, who as the hurricane approached was pronouncing all kinds of nonsense during his African tour, in Spanish and English, denied a US hurricane hunter plane to fly over the island’s sea-air space. It’s something that is normally done to collect data about meteorological phenomena and allows them to improve forecasts and strategy to face a hurricane.

Scientific information is exchanged with Cuba every now and then, as the country’s main meteorologist, Jose Rubiera, has himself admitted on more than one occasion. Of course, this is where Cold War paranoia sinks in, and they’ll say that the plane might only be an excuse to spy on us. Well, it’s best I don’t use the collective here because they have nothing to spy on me for, if they’re spying, it’s to spy on government and their strategic objectives.

Once a hurricane sweeps through the island, there are pretty much always zero fatalities (Civil Defense units need recognition for this, as they evacuate people in time, by force if they need to, but almost no one ever dies). But if a hurricane were to sweep though Havana, I wouldn’t be so sure, because a balcony or roof caves in every now and then in the capital without a hurricane, and after just a little bit of rain, because a high percentage of the city is in danger of collapsing.

This is the effect of another Hurricane that has been hitting Cuba for over half a century and doesn’t want to leave national soil. The State budget has been more focused on hotel infrastructure, while housing depends on citizens’ own financial efforts, which can’t cover what needs to be done in most cases in the capital, which is demolition and rebuilding.

But if they aren’t dedicating what needs to go to hospitals and public health in general, then what expectations can we have for housing?

The worst thing is that nothing can guarantee more tragedies won’t come, that a person walking peacefully down a street in Havana won’t die crushed by a balcony or a building that collapses, especially after there is rain, which there is practically every day in this season of the year. However prime minister Manuel Marrero is busy doing other things.

Thousands of kilometers away, photos of young Cubans went viral recently, almost children even if they have come of age, with all of the immaturity you’d expect from them, who faced by their disappointment have signed contracts to allegedly go to Russia to help with building work in areas damaged by the war with Ukraine.

For starters, they signed the documents without knowing what they said, because they were in Russian; then, when they got there, their documents were taken away and they move from city to city doing tests, but never being given a specific task, much less being paid for their work. This is the living image of Cuban youth’s desperation, who are clutching at all straws to leave the country in search of new horizons, even if they are very uncertain in this case, and even dangerous, because anything can happen in a war zone.

Talking about Russia, a lawsuit was filed against the Cuban Government by the Ural car factory. According to them, complaints were made in Cuba about the vehicles not working, but they are being used and Cuba continues to buy them, and the car factory is demanding 25 million euros for failing to meet payments linked to a contract signed in 2018, by the Cuban import company TecnoImport, the Bank of Commerce, and another state-led corporation.

I once wrote in these pages that Russia wouldn’t be the Cuban dictatorship’s savior, because we are already in a world of business and business owners in this country that no longer believe in ideologies, no matter how much they might like them. Here, it’s all about money, commitments need to be respected or suit up for a million-dollar trial.

The times of pardoning our debts have passed. Now every contract that is signed needs to be backed up with sincerity, because Russia is also basically the only ally the island has left. We recently saw a lawsuit come from China too, so if they continue to shut doors, the Cuban government won’t have anywhere to turn to.

The government hurricane that has been stationary for decades is getting weaker and is now a tropical storm, but it continues to wreak havoc without us first being able to recover from what was hit 20 years ago.

Read more by Francisco Acevedo here.