Thursday, November 08, 2012

Cuban President Raul Castro Visits Hurricane Victims

Havana. November 2, 2012

Sandy could not break the will of Cubans
Raúl tours affected areas in Santiago de Cuba

Jorge Martín Blandino
Granma International

MUCH destruction, countless trees uprooted and electricity poles brought down. This continued to be the predominant scene throughout Santiago de Cuba on Monday, October 29. But it is accompanied by a swarm of men and women who, with modern equipment or simple machetes and brooms, are visibly transforming the image of widespread devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy four days previously.

Thousands of people are on the move to their workplaces and, little by little, the characteristic maelstrom of eastern Cuba’s principal city is being reborn.

"There goes Raúl!" "He’s looking at everything, compay!" "I knew he’d come, we’re not on our own." "It’s great to have you with us!" "Here we are, getting down to it!" "We’re getting there, fighting!" "Standing firm!" "Long live Fidel and Raúl!"

These and other similar affirmations could be heard as the car driving the Cuban President passed through the streets of Chicharrones, San Pedrito, Flores, Siboney, El Caney and other points of the city. A demonstration that optimism, strength and a determination to recover predominate, despite the serious difficulties faced by practically all of the population, in particular those whose homes were totally or partially destroyed.

Raúl was accompanied by First Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura; Army Corps General Joaquín Quintas Solá, Deputy Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces; and Lázaro Expósito Canto, president of the Provincial Defense Council.

The tour began with a tribute to José Martí at the mausoleum which guards his remains in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, which also houses the pantheons of those who died on July 26, 1953 and Cuba’s internationalists. There, Marta Hernández, a heritage specialist at the National Monument Institution, said that the principal damage was the loss of the roof of the administrative building and there was no damage to the tombs of leaders of the country’s independence struggle or of other eminent Cubans, nor breakages of any significance to the rest of the graves.

During a brief stop where the community of 100 petrocasas (houses constructed from oil derivatives such as PVC) was built five years ago, the contrast between the minimal damages to these and the devastation wreaked by the hurricane on the surrounding homes was evident. It is a demonstration that petrocasas are a good option, particularly in rural areas.

Then came a moving encounter with a large group of Santiago port workers, immersed in replacing warehouse roofs. Raúl discussed various issues with them.

The President asked how their families were confronting the situation and about their working conditions. They told him of the efforts underway by brigades from many parts of the country to reestablish electricity supplies as soon as possible, doubtless of prime importance in improving the population’s living conditions.

In reference to Hurricane Sandy, he stated, "It has been hard, but Santiago is Santiago, it has resisted hurricanes and wars of every kind, it will also overcome this, we have to persevere!" The response was loud applause.


President Raúl Castro Ruz arrived in Santiago de Cuba at midday, October 28 and went immediately to the Provincial Defense Council disaster command post. There, Reinaldo García Zapata, its president, gave him an up-to-date report on the current situation in the province and the response to the consequences of Hurricane Sandy.

Also present were First Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura; Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning; and Army Corps Generals Ramón Espinosa Martín and Joaquín Quintas Solá, both deputy ministers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

Hurricane Sandy caused the most damage in the municipalities of Santiago de Cuba, Songo La Maya, Palma Soriano and San Luis, with houses, economic activities, basic public services and educational, health and cultural institutions severely affected.

Lázaro Expósito noted the solidarity received from other Cuban provinces and which is beginning to arrive from Venezuela, as well as the constant presence of the National Defense Council and different central state administration bodies in ongoing efforts to mitigate the damage.

The Cuban President reflected on the most difficult challenge: the 130,000-plus homes affected, in particular the 15,392 totally demolished and 36,544 partially collapsed ones, data still to be confirmed. He stated the need to work urgently on temporary solutions, with rigorous damage control and at the same time to continue studies on how to address this problem in the longer term, as the definitive solution will require years of work. He commented that the community of petrocasas in the city of Santiago de Cuba was left virtually intact, confirming their solidity.

He supported the correct decision to give maximum priority to restoring basic services as quickly as possible, especially electricity and water, while emphasizing the importance of informing, orientating and maintaining constant contact with the population.

Intensive work is underway to clear the province of considerable volumes of rubble and uprooted trees which, in addition to the negative psychological effect on people, are obstructing roads and thus recovery efforts. Participation by FAR troops, engineering and transport vehicles has been decisive in this effort.


Prior to traveling to Santiago de Cuba, Raúl met with Félix Duarte Ortega and Noemí Iglesias Falcón, president and vice president of the Ciego de Avila Provincial Defense Council, who informed him that the heavy rains associated with Sandy were of benefit to the province, as damage is moderate and reservoirs have accumulated 96% of their total capacity.

"This readiness of the people of Ciego de Avila and all Cubans to help their compatriots in the east of the country with the human and material resources needed is impressive," Raúl commented, and asked about the dispatch of agricultural produce and pre-prepared foods.

The Cuban President emphasized the importance of constant thinking and analysis, of studying each problem to find the best solution within reach, of working in an orderly and disciplined manner, without which it is impossible to advance. "Things cannot be solved overnight, we have to work at them," he concluded.


• ON October 27, the President Raúl Castro visited the provinces of Villa Clara and Sancti Spíritus, after attending the Council of Ministers meeting which, among other issues, analyzed the measures to be adopted after the passage of Hurricane Sandy.

In Villa Clara, Raúl was informed by Julio Lima Corzo and Jorgelina Pestana Mederos, president and vice president of the Provincial Defense Council, of the damage caused by the heavy rains associated with Sandy and the progress of the recovery phase.

They agreed that the most serious challenge was to ensure that no lives are lost in El Santo community, which was severely flooded, making it necessary to evacuate 320 people by helicopter. They confirmed that the province is in a position to confront damage to production, housing and economic facilities, and only needs additional resources for road repairs.

Immediately after their arrival in Sancti Spíritus in the early hours of the night, Raúl and his delegation met with José R. Monteagudo Ruiz and Teresita Romero Rodríguez, president and vice president of the Provincial Defense Council.

Monteagudo Ruiz described the situation in the province as stable and noted that the principal danger was associated with the enormous volume of water received by the Zaza reservoir from Villa Clara, which obliged them to open the sluices and evacuate thousands of people living downriver. He confirmed that damage to agriculture and other sectors is not serious. In particular, he reaffirmed the province’s determination to meet this year’s rice production target.

Raúl was interested in the progress of production in Banao and other areas of the province. He affirmed that despite losses, particularly to roads, Sancti Spíritus has great wealth in its reservoirs, and reflected on how much remains to be done in relation to water systems to promote rational use of a resource which has always been valuable, but will be more so in the future. He also mentioned the considerable effort needed to ensure water sanitation, particularly in relations to aqueducts and drainage systems.

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