Cuba, A Disaster Far from Typical

The parade of recovery initiatives launched after Hurricane Irma hit Cuba would make a good script for any type of surrealist work. In the dirty streets filled with scattered debris, stalls and platforms have been mounted by the State to sell food products. They are adorned and painted as if they were part of preparations for a carnival and despite giving an impression of providing aid, they actually give a slap in the face of those who cannot afford to purchase the goods.

State Stalls. Photo by Yunia Figueredo
State Stalls. Photo by Yunia Figueredo

What do these State stalls sell?

“Rice,” says Irma, a humble secretary, currently unemployed before she gets a notification to get back to work. She doesn’t have much money to cope with the crisis left by her namesake from the realm of climate phenomena. “They also sell rum and cigars and boxes with food are supposed to arrive this afternoon.

What other kind of food aid does the government provide?

“Chicken meat, but the price is the same as always,” says Josefina, a maintenance worker who also works only part-time now. “We are going through a special period within another special period.”

It seems that all people who used to make money from “shady deals” in their respective community centres (“círculos sociales”) have now lost their means of livelihood. “They used to sell chicken meat, fish fillets, beef, crackers, hot dogs, at prices much lower than those charged by the State,” says Taimara, a mother of two.

The warehouses of the main shops in Havana are closed due to stocktaking or reconstruction works, there are no accounting assets. The black market ceased to supply rum and beer, smoked products, cereals etc.

“Never mind, the State will quickly resolve it,” says a former revolutionary living in front of one of these community centres where she gets her supplies. “I trust in a quick restoration of the country, because if there is anything good about the Revolution, it’s the speed at which it resolves problems,” she says.

“Stealing, that’s the proper word… before the very eyes of the people. And then selling goods at high prices,” says Idania, a citizen who claims to have actually seen people do such things with impunity.

“As street vendors, we are the ones who have suffered the most severe consequences of the hurricane,” says Julito, my old friend who lives off this business. “There is nothing to sell. People don’t have money for titbits, nor do they know how to conjure up any. It’s getting worse every day. At least I cannot stand it anymore, the reality after the hurricane is particularly difficult.”

What if there is another hurricane?

“Holy Mary,” says Juana, santeria priest from the El Palo neighbourhood, crossing herself. “May we have time to confess before God takes us, because if this country gets hit by another blast like that of Hurricane Irma, then the boat is going to sink.”

The youth, on the other hand, seem to be detached from the consequences of the hurricane – as if they were alien to the universe of their elders. They don’t participate in any efforts aimed at the general restoration of the country.

“It’s the responsibility of the government,” says Richard, a twenty-year-old IT student. “I just do my bytes and that’s all.”

The Cuban society is divided: there is a group of those who want to clean up the towns and cities and restore the country, and another one which remains indifferent and bets on maintaining the status quo, as if the reluctance to participate in restoration efforts were a kind of resistance against the so-called “government”.