Victims of Hurricanes Still Waiting for Help

“Everything is a lie. The State doesn’t protect the victims,” says Reina Ester de la Cruz Ramos, an eighty-something-year-old resident of the municipality of Santa Fe located in the northwest of Havana.

In front of her house, the old woman shows us a small room full of junk with some sacks of sand and cement, which cost her a fortune. Standing between the door and the window, both made of scraps of wood, she tells us:

Reina Ester de la Cruz at the door of her home. Photo by Frank Correa
Reina Ester de la Cruz at the door of her home. Photo by Frank Correa

“That’s how we live here in Cuba, the victims who haven’t received any kind of social aid.”

Reina Ester tells us that it all began in 1983, when the sea forced its way to her home and flooded her street and some adjacent ones.

“That’s when they started calling this place El Bajo (a low-lying ground). Ten years later we were again hit by the ‘storm of the century’, which left hundreds of families homeless. Yet, we have been able to recover from all that despite the fact that we have never received any indemnification. Contrary to what they preached on TV, that the Revolution would never leave anyone helpless, that they would make up for the losses, they have not given us a single sheet. We have written to the National Assembly, demanded aid and protested countless times, but that’s all empty words.”

Reina Ester shares her small flat with her daughter Zoraida and her granddaughter Estela. Zoraida shows us the single room of the flat, where they all sleep on a bed raised on blocks. Then she shows us how high on the wall the water raised when Hurricane Irma hit the area.

“All the residents of El Bajo have become specialists on meteorology,” says Estela, Reina’s granddaughter. “Out of sheer necessity we watch the weather forecast every day and pray that no bad weather forms in the Caribbean. We already know the consequences well as we have had first-hand experience on various occasions.”

I ask Reina Ester whether the local deputy knows about the situation and she responds:

“Don’t even mention it! Of course he knows, but he’s not able to solve anything! He’s just a carnival puppet.”

Then her face turns sad and she lowers her voice when she remembers her mom, Juana Ramos Tomé, who died after witnessing the destruction caused by the sea during the ‘storm of the century’, which had robbed them of everything.

Her daughter Zoraida also grows nostalgic and confesses that a similar thing happened to her mom during hurricane Irma in September 2017.

“When the waves dragged her towards the street, I thought I had lost her. With the weak and sick she was… I took hold of her and carried her to a high place where we stayed until we were rescued by a school bus when everything around had already been flooded. The State never helped us, we didn’t even receive any financial support to help us repair our homes. The few materials that we needed to buy were very expensive, but at least we were able to start fixing the house, little by little. Yet, there’s still so much to do! We pray all the time that no other hurricane comes that would throw us back to the start again.”

Clara Matos, a neighbour also living in the Calle Primera street in Santa Fe, claims to be another hurricane victim who has also received no help from the National Assembly.

“Dreams of floods are those that most often torment local people. There’s not a single night I would not dream of the sea carrying me away or getting into my house. I remember that two days after the ‘storm of the century’, the Commander in Chief came here personally. He stood by that lamp post, looking at the disaster, and said that we should all be taken out of this place and given new homes somewhere else. His order has never been fulfilled. Life goes on with us remembering Denis, Wilman, Ike, Gustav and Irma and asking God not to send any of them or their friends to this part of Havana anymore.”