Havana was already under a hurricane warning when I returned on Sunday after a tour of Pinar del Río. Rarely has it given me so much pleasure to see the elevated bridges of 100th Street and Boyeros than after seeing the procession of structures destroyed in the west. On both sides of the highway one could see the place where winds exceeding 200 kilometers per hour passed, just in the area between Los Palacios and San Diego. The dry vegetation, doubled over in the direction of the strongest winds, and the hundreds of houses without roofs, or blown down. Even the resistant marabou weed suffered more under the hurricane than with all the well-publicized plans to eliminate it.
People mourned their fate, with their houses blown down and their childhood photos destroyed by water. A bicycle-taxi driver sent his daughters to the home of an aunt because he didn’t have the 9.70 pesos it cost for each piece of asbestos cement roofing distributed to the victims. Desolation and doubt before a future that already had the tone of shadows but now is painted, rightly, in the worst shade of ochre. Crops on the ground with no insurance company responsible for them. Electrical appliances purchased in the informal market that cannot even be declared lost, because to the State they never existed.
The helplessness of the citizen before these catastrophes of weather is crushing. One hammer costs practically a month’s salary, and having boards and nails is such a luxury that they can use only a few. Only one option is left when a cyclone comes: Evacuate and leave the larger belongings to the mercy of the storm. The most difficult process for those we want to help is the absence of a civic route for sending donations to the victims. The State distribution structure cannot overcome the indolence and poor organization it demonstrates in other economic activities. Many choose to work through churches, but they lack the infrastructure and personnel to reach everywhere.
Yesterday evening, Sunday, we talked with the members of the Convivencia [Coexistence] team and other members of the nascent civil society in Pinar del Río about how to bring clothing, food and medicine to the victims. Unfortunately, all the options have been dismantled over the years in which we Cuban citizens have lost our autonomy before an overprotective and authoritarian State. If a group of people could gather aid, the problem would be transporting it to the disaster zones and distributing it without being denounced and in the end arrested. Thus, the most viable initiative is for family members abroad to send cash to their relatives in Cuba. For those of us who live on the Island and want to lend a hand, we must take it in person to the devastated areas and deliver our donations directly. “Anything helps,” a gentleman sobbing with sadness told me, while showing me his house, poverty-stricken before the cyclone and now blown down.