Solidarity flows in Cuba after hurricane

Before laying waste to the Eastern U.S., Hurricane Sandy ripped through Caribbean islands, causing deaths in Jamaica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and even well-prepared Cuba.

Despite 330,000 evacuations in the Eastern provinces, Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second-largest city with nearly half a million people, reported nine deaths, and Guantánamo two deaths, primarily from collapsing buildings and falling trees. Holguín province was also hard hit, but suffered no casualties. Granma Daily reported early damage estimates at 132,733 homes, with 15,322 totally destroyed and 43,426 losing roofs.

On Oct. 26, the initial damage estimate was more than $2.1 billion, not including losses in tourism, sugar, coffee and other crops, construction, pharmaceutical and other productive sectors.

In addition to the losses in agriculture, food production, processing and distribution networks in Santiago were severely damaged. With 186 area grocery stores destroyed, family homes or workplaces have become distribution centers for the rationed family food basket. Eleven catering units are serving food. Tents usually used for the Santiago Nights recreation project are being used by 29 city councils for distribution and sale of prepared food. (Juventud Rebelde, Nov. 2)

The most pressing immediate challenge is restoring power to Santiago de Cuba province, where the storm affected all the 127 circuits available. Raúl García Barreiro, director-general of the National Electrical Union, leads more than 2,000 lineworkers battling to reconnect the province to the national electrical grid. President Raúl Castro, who visited all the storm-damaged provinces, said, “I’m not leaving until Santiago has electricity.” (Granma, Nov. 3)

In addition to deploying electrical and other specialized workers and heavy equipment, other provinces shipped materials, including utility poles, roofing materials and food. Production of transformers and the harvesting of crops were accelerated. Artemisa province in western Cuba sent 940 tons of sweet potatoes and 40 tons of malanga root, excess from the abundant harvest this year. Octavio Morera, a stevedore working with others to bring aid, said they had made a commitment to help the victims of Sandy. Solidarity, he said, “is what makes us Cubans and it is a way to pay back for all the help we have received when we have been hit by similar storms.” (Cuban News Agency, Nov. 2)

International solidarity is also arriving. Venezuela began a seven-day air bridge to send 646 tons of non-perishable food, water, equipment and machinery for Cuba and Haiti. The Dominican Republic sent tall ladders for electrical restoration. On Nov. 3, Bolivia sent the first of two shipments of water and food totalling 120 tons of aid, noting the solidarity Cuba had shown in helping to eliminate illiteracy and train Bolivian doctors. Russia airlifted 30 tons of construction supplies.

On Oct. 31, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported having sent messages of condolence to the governments of the Bahamas, Canada, the United States, Haiti and Jamaica over the loss of human lives and significant material damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

A major obstacle to hurricane recovery and economic and social development is the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, which has lasted for more than half a century and cost Cuba as much as $1.07 trillion.

On Nov. 13, a U.N. resolution calling for the end of the blockade will be voted on by the General Assembly. It will pass for the 21st consecutive time, with a unanimous vote except for the U.S., Israel and perhaps one or two small countries dependent on the U.S. It is past time for Washington to normalize relations with socialist Cuba, free the Cuban 5, who are unjustly held in U.S. prisons, and end its unique and unconstitutional ban on U.S. residents traveling to Cuba.

The Canadian Network on Cuba has launched a “Sandy Relief Fund” campaign. In the U.S., contributions can be made through Global Links at globallinks.org.