While Irma caused more severe and widespread damage in Cuba than in most of the United States — and less than in some Caribbean islands like Barbuda and the U.S. colony of the Virgin Islands — workers and farmers in Cuba have a big advantage. Since the overthrow of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, opening the door for Cuba’s socialist revolution, Cuba’s working people run the government. As Cuban President Raúl Castro said, they ensure that “no Cuban family is left on its own.”
Their revolution, and the way the Cuban people met the storm, is a powerful example for workers worldwide to emulate.
More than 1,738,000 people were evacuated in advance of the storm by Civil Defense committees, minimizing the loss of human life. The committees made sure shelters — from community centers to caves — were comfortable and adequately provisioned. Students went door to door to persuade and help anyone in a danger zone who was hesitating, to evacuate. Tens of thousands of electrical and construction workers moved into action as soon as the storm died down.
At the height of the hurricane, 100 percent of electric power — except for generators in some essential buildings — was shut down. Some key power plants were severely damaged and more than 3,600 electrical poles came down. But as of Sept. 16, 87 percent of the population had some electricity restored.
‘Solidarity is needed’
“What is needed now is solidarity, and for every Cuban that means offering whatever you have for your neighbor even if that means dividing it up so that a little bit gets into the hands of many,” wrote Guerrillero, the newspaper of Pinar del Río province, one of the less affected areas of the country.
“No one should be upset because trucks with food from the countryside are being sent out of this province since at others times this has been done for us,” the paper added.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces in Cuba is helping to lead the way. Granma reported Sept. 17 that brigades of 20 or 30 soldiers together with people from the Ministry of Construction and neighborhood organizations are going block by block cleaning up Cienfuegos.
The challenges are formidable. In addition to the electrical grid, tens of thousands of homes were damaged — 24,000 in Camagüey province alone. Dozens of oil wells, sugar refineries and more than 100,000 acres of banana, sweet potato, grapefruit, oranges, sugar cane and other crops, as well as chicken coops and feed lots for pigs and cattle were hard hit.
Farmworkers and peasants are organizing to salvage as much as possible of banana and citrus crops that were knocked to the ground. To replace lost vegetable and fruit production, farmers are planting seeds with shorter growth cycles that can still be harvested this year.
The Federation of Cuban Women, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and other mass organizations held a national cleanup mobilization Sept. 17. They were joined by the army, various government ministries and workers from state-owned industries.
‘We knew we were needed’
Juventud Rebelde reported Sept. 17 that as soon as the storm ended a large number of students headed to the University of Havana to begin cleaning up. “Nobody called us or went looking for us, but we all got there early because we knew that our support was needed. We’ve been working at the university and nearby areas ever since,” said student Karla Santana Rodríguez.
The government announced Sept. 18 it was subsidizing 50 percent of the materials needed to rebuild or repair damaged homes. Low interest or zero interest loans are available. And those who can’t afford loans can get materials for free.
Some individuals have taken advantage of the situation for themselves at the expense of the social solidarity of the working class. There were reports of price-gouging, hoarding and a few cases of people taking computers from schools and circuit breakers from evacuated homes.
On Sept. 16 the assistant attorney general of Cuba announced that “hoarding, speculation, illicit economic activities, illegalities and infractions that harm what is costing so much effort” will be dealt with severely.
Troupes of musicians, actors and other entertainers have taken to the road to boost people’s spirits.
Vanguardia, newspaper of Villa Clara province, featured the tour of the Sergio Corrieri artistic brigade, which is giving performances in Caibarién and other hardest hit towns.
As people gathered, not everyone was enthusiastic. “They were surprised with the arrival of the musicians, actors, clowns and magicians,” and when the Juan Campos Group began playing a popular song, the paper said, “like magic the spirit of the tired-out ones revived.”
“The hurricane did not break the spirit of resistance of Cubans,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said at the United Nations Sept. 18.
Rodríguez pledged that Cuba would “cooperate, within our modest possibilities, with our fellow peoples who have been affected by the hurricane.” The nearly 800 Cuban volunteer health care workers who were in fellow Caribbean countries before the storm are pitching in and others from Cuba have volunteered to join them.
Capitalism turns Harvey, Irma into social disasters
As Raúl Castro said, ‘In Cuba, no one is left behind’
Brigade will bring solidarity, aid to Cuba after storm
Washington protest demands US hands off Venezuela, Cuba
US moves against Cuba ‘crash against our revolutionary spirit’
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