Santiago de Cuba Post-Sandy

Alberto N Jones

Telephone repair people hard at work. Photo:
Telephone repair people hard at work. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — For those who experienced the massive destruction left by hurricane Sandy in Santiago de Cuba, it is hard to believe how a few months later, all streets are free of debris; water, electricity, and telephone service have been fully restored, thousands of roofs have been replaced and hundreds of homes have been repaired or built.

Most other public services are back on track, businesses have re-opened, trees are being planted, new buses are coming to town, roads are being repaved and highways repaired.

Less visible and masked by the positive recovery from Sandy, is a critical rise in unemployment, a sharp increase in the cost of living, a notable decline in food supply especially produce and a proliferation of petty theft, rising tempers and  increased violence.

Numerous poverty-related outbreaks of deadly waterborne diseases have led to heighten epidemiologic measures, hospitalizations and anxiety among the population.

But, like the massive recovery following Sandy’s destruction, Cuba has powerful, untapped resources within its reach, which are capable of reverting these social ills and promote the development the area demands.

Santiago de Cuba has the most privileged geographical location in the region, with most neighboring countries 1 – 2.5 hours flying time away.

Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo and Holguin to a certain extent, hold the strongest historical, cultural, ethnic, religious, filial, culinary and linguistic ties with the Caribbean, as opposed to Latinized western Cuba.

It is in eastern Cuba where we find hundreds of thousands of professionals in every walk of human endeavor, boasting anglo-franco names.

It was in these Caribbean islands where Mariana Grajales, the mother of the Cuban nation found refuge, died and was buried for decades.  It was here, where Cubans shed their blood in defense of Grenada and some are buried underwater off Barbados.

It is in the Caribbean, where Cuba has always had an unconditional moral, literary and political support, which led Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana to restore diplomatic relations in 1972, notwithstanding dire threats of retribution by the US State Department.

How can we explain, that after 50 years of a steadfast, loyal, unquestionable political support of Cuba, Santiago de Cuba has only formal diplomatic relations with the region, minimum airline connections, no sea links, no policy to restore and strengthen family links, negligible commerce, no tourism and limited health, education, cultural and sports exchanges.

Can this be the way of fostering, developing and perpetuating a proven record of love, friendship and solidarity?

What motivates high ranking officials in the Cuban government to willingly fly 10-15 hours to distant countries in search of collaboration, tourism, business, solidarity, while completely ignoring friends literally in walking distance?

In addition to what was said above, Cuba has an unpayable debt of gratitude with hundreds of thousands migrant Caribbean workers, who during the XX century, provided near-slave labor under infra-human conditions, their sweat, tears, blood and lives on hundreds of sugarcane plantations across Oriente, Camaguey, Las Villas and Matanzas, which turned Cuba into the largest sugar producer in the world.

Friends ought to be treated differently.  The relaxation of travel regulations in Cuba, should enable thousands of Cuban professionals with family ties in each of these islands, to be able to earn a decent salary by providing underserved or non existent services in their parents’ country.

Likewise, an orderly migrant policy should allow thousands of Caribbean farmers to come to Cuba, lease untilled, fallow lands and produce much needed food to secure the country needs and export. Sports, cultural, education and social exchanges must be strengthened.

Frustration, despair and hope co-exist today in Santiago de Cuba and in many Caribbean islands.  Integration, collaboration and development with our closest neighbors, is all that is need to be done by our people and their leaders.



4 thoughts on “Santiago de Cuba Post-Sandy

  • I would add that the “untitled, fallow lands” mentioned actually have owners and are titled to many Cubans and Americans who had these properties “nationalized” without compensation (as the confiscatory decrees called for). This reflects major problem: there is no clear title to any property there… and so there cannot be sustainable and secure investment until the property claims are settled.

  • It would make great sense for there to be more regional integration between Cuba and its Caribbean neighbors. As I see it there are 2 impediments in the way. For example, with regard to sea links, there is a part of the US blockade laws that prohibits foreign vessels that stop in Cuba from entering a US port for 6 months. The Caribbean nations do not, for the most part, own their tourist infrastructure. There are no state-owned hotels or state-owned cruise lines. Such assets are owned by the well-known foreign chains, which invariably have business links in the US that cannot be sacrificed. Currently only a limited number of cruise companies stop in Cuba because of the extra-territorial aspects of the US blockade laws.

    The 2nd impediment to greater regional integration comes from the Cuban side – the Euro-centric orientation of the geriatric, “Gallego” leadership. Until patriotic and pro-revolutionary Afro-Cubans agitate and insist on an inclusive national government and majority leadership in regional areas where they form the majority (such as Santiago), the marginalization will continue, and the current government will “willingly fly 10-15 hours to distant countries in search of
    collaboration, tourism, business, solidarity, while completely ignoring
    friends literally in walking distance.” Fifty years of unconditional support from Afro-Cubans should not continue when even the highly-symbolic post of Director of Casa Africa has to go to a “Gallego”!!!

  • I was in Santiago in December and found very little visual unrepaired hurricane damage.

    My observations differ from your comment that Santiago has minimum airline connections, no sea links, limited commerce, and no tourism. The level of these is greatly influenced by market forces outside the realm of Cuba.

  • Mr. Jones, you pose several very interesting questions. At the root of Cuba’s missed opportunities is the fact that for 54 years, political dogma has driven economic policy as opposed to forward-thinking and progressive economic policy as the driving force behind political ideology. When the dictatorship in Cuba realizes that what is best for the Cuban economy is best for Cuba as a whole, your questions will be addressed.

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