By Roger Calero and Martin Koppel, The Militant, December 17, 2012
|Cuban army helped clear tons of debris|
SANTIAGO DE CUBA—In the wake of destruction wreaked by Hurricane Sandy in this eastern city during the early morning of Oct. 25, working people have joined forces and organized—rapidly and on a massive scale—to clear roads, restore basic services, and repair damaged homes and schools.
They have mobilized through their mass organizations and received active backing from their government, a working-class government, at all levels. The Eastern Army of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba has played a major part in this collective effort, especially in the heavy work of clearing the many tons of debris.
Just one month later, most of the rubble has been removed and electrical power fully restored. Schools and offices are open, normal commerce is returning, and an organized, collective effort is under way to repair and rebuild housing. No one has been left on their own.
On Nov. 25, a 3,000-strong brigade of electrical workers from across the island was able to leave Santiago, its mission accomplished. They had worked 12-hour shifts or longer, day after day, until power was restored.
“We’ve seen a tremendous expression of solidarity here,” said Pedro Miranda, president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), who arranged for Militant reporters to visit some storm-damaged areas of the city on Nov. 27.
Storm devastates Santiago
The hurricane devastated eastern Cuba and particularly Santiago, which with a population of half a million is the second-largest city after Havana. Some 133,000 homes were damaged here, many beyond repair, especially in flooded coastal communities such as Siboney, according to Miranda. Parts of the provinces of Holguín and Guantánamo also suffered heavy damage.
Nine people were killed in Santiago and two in Guantánamo, 50 miles east of here, Miranda said. The orderly evacuation of tens of thousands before the hurricane saved many more lives. But for Cuba the number of casualties was relatively high. This is widely attributed to the fact that there is no living memory of a storm of this severity hitting Santiago directly; many people underestimated what was coming.
In the working-class neighborhood of San Pedrito, one of the hardest hit, the recovery effort was evident everywhere, from buildings being repaired to telephone work brigades restoring service. At the entrance to every public facility, a worker makes sure you disinfect your hands and wash the soles of your shoes in a chlorine solution as a preventive measure against outbreaks of disease, especially cholera. Community leaders in San Pedrito reported there have been 16 deaths from cholera in Santiago since the storm.
We visited the local office of the Popular Council, a government-coordinated body that includes representatives of mass organizations. The office has been turned into a command center where community residents go to report damage and secure help to get materials for housing reconstruction, food and other necessities. Madelín Mendoza, president of the Popular Council, told us all but 22 of the roughly 3,000 homes in San Pedrito suffered damage in the hurricane; more than 550 were totally destroyed.
Inside the center residents moved from one work station to the next as they applied for construction materials and help with repairs. At one station they registered. At another, a government employee helped them figure out supplies they needed and the cost. At a third station, a social worker discussed with them their financial situation and how much they could afford. At a fourth, a bank representative issued credit.
All construction materials in storm-damaged areas are being sold at half price, subsidized by the government, Mendoza reported. Anyone without cash to pay for the materials can obtain a loan on the spot, payable in 10 years. Households with the least economic resources are issued all materials free of charge.
Neighborhood teams visit homes to evaluate the needs. Residents receive a response the next day and can pick up their supplies at a nearby warehouse. “We’ve gone house to house and visited 2,600 homes,” said Antonio Benítez, who works at the command center.
The council also organizes volunteer brigades of workers with construction skills to help residents repair damaged roofs, plumbing, walls and other structures.
“People came to help us from other neighborhoods and provinces,” said Mendoza. “Residents of San Pedrito have offered them coffee and food.”
“Neighbors helped each other from the very first day,” said Laudelina Ramos, a schoolteacher who was one of those applying at the center for help to repair her storm-damaged house.
Describing the reconstruction work across the city, Pedro Miranda noted that Cuban President Raúl Castro arrived in Santiago soon after the hurricane and remained here for days to help lead the recovery effort. Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura visited hard-hit areas in Santiago and Holguín provinces. This had a big impact in reinforcing the morale and confidence among the population, he said.
In Cuba, the pledge that “no one is left to fend for themselves” has been made real by the collective efforts of millions of working people, organized and led by their national, provincial and local government bodies.