Category 2 Hurricane Sandy left behind a scene of destruction throughout all of Eastern Cuba, tearing down countless homes and costing the lives of at least 11 people during the morning hours of October 26th.
A few days later, the Cuban regime has responded with inefficiency in regards to the situation, as well as with the accustomed repression against human rights defenders. However, these same activists and the everyday people have been helping neighbors who have suffered hard hits, considering that the regime’s personnel have paid no attention to the suffering.
In Santiago de Cuba, one of the most affected provinces has “grave damages“, according to former political prisoner and leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia.
“Sandy has passed through a region that was already very poor, which was already damaged by so many years of the regime’s inefficiency, and it has left even more destruction of homes, farms, stores, churches and other establishments”, explained Ferrer, “it has left more hunger, there is no electricity and there are lots of necessities which Cubans already have to begin with. The entire region has nearly been left without any services. There is no drinkable water and there is destruction everywhere and people are trying to resolve with what they have”.
The dissident leader points out that during the storm, one activist on UNPACU in Palma Soriano sheltered about 30 people in his home. Meanwhile, the website of the pro-democracy Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID) reported that various activists from this group have been assisting affected families, helping them rebuild what they can.
“Civil Defense has done nothing to help the affected”, affirmed Ferrer García. This declaration is one seconded as well by Lady in White and member of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, Marta Diaz Rondon, from Banes, Holguin.
“Here, the people are criticizing the government because they have neither protected or helped them”, said Diaz, “the people have told us- dissidents- to please take pictures and make their situations public. The entire town was misinformed before the hurricane passed. The state media said that there were only going to be some rains and winds, but at no moment did they mention a hurricane passing through Banes, while no one was evacuated”.
Many citizens witnessed before their eyes as their homes crashed down while they rushed to take shelter wherever they could.
The home of Diaz Rondon was penetrated by water brought my intense rains, while parts of her roof (made of zinc) fell. Meanwhile, in the same municipality of Banes but in another neighborhood, Lady in White Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez suffered the total destruction of her home.
Ojeda Suarez recounts that “the storm ripped off my roof, it tore down my back wall and all of my children’s furniture were soaked. The little bit of things I had have been destroyed, but I was not the only one. Two houses next to mine also fell to the ground. My brother-in-law also lost his roof and a wall. The situation in Banes is disastrous”.
The activist explained that the majority of the food she had was destroyed and that the people “are hungry” and “desperate“. She adds that before and after the storm, functionaries of the Communist Party have walked by her neighborhood but at no point in time did they stop by her house to ask if she needed any sort of help.
“The situation in Banes, when it comes to food, is critical. People cannot find food. We are cooking with rocks, and with pieces of debris from our homes”, added Marta Diaz Rondon.
In his part, activist Walter Cañete Cruz said that in the Los Pinos neighborhood of Banes, his home and that of many other citizens were also reduced to rubble, and that “the authorities have not appeared to try and fix the problems“.
The effects of the hurricane were not only felt in the Eastern region of the country, but also in some central areas, especially in the Northern coastal town of Playa Larga, in Cardenas, Matanzas, where Lady in White Leticia Ramos Herreria recounted that “the sea level rose and lots of water penetrated countless homes, and no officials from Civil Defense showed up to help us“.
In the absence of functionaries, many citizens turned to Ramos Herreria and other activists so that they would help them.
“A number of us activists went to the local Communist Party headquarters…after hours that we had presented our complaints there, some firefighters showed up in Playa Larga to save some lives”, declared Ramos, “in fact, the fire truck could not even enter the area because there was so much water. You couldn’t tell the street apart from the ocean. Many people told those firefighters that they had left them there abandoned”.
The accustomed repression against other human rights activists during the weekend was not withheld. On the same day of the hurricane, three activists from the Eastern Democratic Alliance were arrested by the political police in Guantanamo when they were helping various people who evacuated themselves in a community known as El Caribe, according to Yanniel Cisneros. The detainees were Jesus Manuel Pena (father and son) and Isael Poveda Silva. In addition, a number of detentions of UNPACU members were also reported, while in Antilla, Lady in White Mildred Noemi Sanchez Infante said a group of dissidents had been persecuted and arrested, among them Amada Pileta, Miguel Santana and Ángel Batista Vega.
From Havana, Berta Soler said that the Ladies in White dedicated their Sunday march this 28th of October not only to all political prisoners of conscience but also to the victims of the hurricane. “Despite the weather conditions which ravaged the Eastern region, and despite the repression of the government, 51 of us Ladies in White were able to march down Havana’s 5th Avenue, demanding the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and to respect the human rights of all citizens, but also in solidarity with all our Eastern brothers and sisters who have suffered, and continue suffering, lack of water, food, and attention from the government“.
Soler highlighted that although the political police detained a number of women throughout the East on that same day, 8 of them were able to march to church in Guantanamo and 2 in Holguin. Meanwhile, in Matanzas 16 women were able to carry out their emblematic and peaceful march.
“The Cuban regime truly did not prepare the people for these conditions in the East, but the Ladies in White are keeping our minds positive and we are offering all our solidarity to the Eastern people. In any way we can help, we will do so”, assured Soler, who added that more than 15 Ladies in White suffered partial or total losses of their homes.
The promoters of the Citizen Demand for Another Cuba initiative have published various addresses on their blog where aid can be sent to directly assist the people affected by the hurricane.
For more information from Cuba:
Marta Diaz Rondon – Cell Phone: +5352-771-639 // Twitter: @MartaDiazRondon
Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia- Cell Phone: +5353-146-740// Twitter: @jdanielferrer
Berta Soler- Cell Phone: +5352-906-820