The principal Cuban television meteorologist, Jose Rubiera, announced that no new tropical storm or hurricane has formed in the Atlantic ocean. The relief spread across the one hundred and eleven thousand square kilometers of this island. At least for a few days, the cyclone corridor that we have become will take a break. This climatological news has not dispelled the sorrow and unease that we have for the immediate future. Despite the air of triumph they present to us on the TV news, talking about “hurricane recovery,” Cubans are very worried.
On the one hand, all the illusions of those expecting an economic recovery in the coming months have been dashed. We have already said goodbye to certain products including bananas, mangoes, avocados, the foods and citrus fruits that will take years to return to their already high current prices. After four days without electricity and without any water supply we, and all of the neighbors in the 144 apartments in my building, are waiting for a free supply of drinkable water and the distribution of prepared food. Some have been shouting their disapproval from the balconies, to which I responded with a provocative “Viva Raúl!” which nearly cost me a lynching.
Nor can the market where they take only convertible pesos, with its fat prices, cope with the demands of desperate habaneros. Hurricane Ike has made the profound social differences between those who can keep a reserve supply of food, boards, and battery-powered radios, and those who depend exclusively on the official administration, all the more obvious. The past history of how State aid to victims of natural disasters fades over the months causes people not to want promises, but rather immediate solutions. The voracity with which we take now what might no longer be available tomorrow had the inhabitants of one town in Pinar del Río laying into a truck with machetes to reach its 100 sheets of asbestos cement roofing.
There is a lack of humility in those who should do everything possible to allow humanitarian aid to enter Cuba. One measure that would be very well received would be if the National Customs waived the taxes on the kilograms of medicines, clothing and food emigrant family members want to bring to the island. Instead, however, we Cubans woke up in the middle of a cyclone to an increase in prices for fuel and other staples. They turn down aid without asking what the people think and allow some outsiders to conduct inspections while refusing to let others do likewise. The image of the Venezuelan military arriving in Cuba to “inspect the damage” – that’s word-for-word – contrasts with their fastidiousness about accepting something similar from the European Union countries (with the exception of Spain and Belgium) or the United States.
The questions of the moment are: What is the priority of the Cuban government? Political principals or the welfare of those who have lost everything? What is the preference of the North American government? That the formal inspection requirements are met, or that the aid reaches the victims? Citizens are not going to wait until both governments come to agreement. The people’s diplomacy can surprise them by acting faster and more efficiently.