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Posted September 24, 2008 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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SURGIDERO DE BATABANO, Cuba - Swamped by chest-high flooding caused by recent hurricanes, the humble residents of this desolate fishing village on Cuba’s southern coast found one small cause for celebration recently: homemade ice cream.

On a clattering, old metal contraption rigged up in a drab concrete compound, Marlen Vargas López, a smiling soul with close-cropped hair, whipped up a fresh batch and pulled a lever to fill cone after cone with chocolate, the flavor of the day.

‘‘It’s refreshing,’’ said one young man, stopped in front of the store in the scorching afternoon sun. ``At least it relieves the heat.’‘

The ice-cream treat was about all there was for sale at El Recreo, one of the few shops open in the dismal location south of Havana. Clara Balladares Gomes, another store clerk, said there were no snacks, no bottled water and no soft drinks at the rundown outlet.

While the flooding from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike has receded, filthy pools of stagnant water still lined the streets in front of the wood shack homes on a recent afternoon, giving off a stench.

The shanties were scarcely habitable before the western region of Cuba—from the Gulf of Batabanó to the agriculture-rich province of Pinar del Río—was pummeled by back-to-back hurricanes within eight days beginning Aug. 30. Now, the homes are musty, and many roofs leak when it rains.

Spotting newcomers in the street, a middle-aged woman in worn shorts trailed after the visitors, offering to provide overnight accommodations and meals at a ‘‘casa particular,’’ or private home that takes in guests.

Now, more than ever, she could use the money.


The twin natural disasters may be the worst to ever hit the communist island, with preliminary damage estimates for the two storms reaching an estimated $5 billion. According to reports in the Cuban newspaper Opciones, more than 444,000 homes were damaged, with some 63,249 destroyed. The electric grid was badly crippled. Gustav wiped out more than 800 tons of premium Cuban tobacco.

Numerous other crops also have been damaged. Last week, along a main highway in Pinar del Río, a small group of field workers, kneeling in a field of shallow water, used their hands to pull plants by the roots. One weary worker lifted his head and explained that much of the crop ``is damaged.’‘

Hurricane preparedness and massive evacuations clearly helped to minimize human injuries. Even hotel rooms on the island include detailed information on what to do in case of a hurricane. Several locals said they are used to the storms and closely monitor their tracks to know if they need to respond.


Despite the devastation in the village of Surgidero de Batabanó, small boys—the sons of local fishermen—played in the street, merrily sloshing in filthy puddles.

Elsewhere, the government seemed to be working hard on the relief effort. In tourist-popular Viñales last week, many government workers joined in a cleanup, and workers from the electrical company were out in full force in a bid to restore power, erecting new poles and stringing lines.

Cuban officials blame whatever shortcomings are encountered on the U.S. embargo.

In the state newspaper Granma, an article said that a half-century economic war against the island will make it more difficult to rebuild, given that Cuba is a small country with limited financial resources.

But the government has reported little about the repeated offers of aid by the United States, which have been consistently turned down.

In the remote area of Surgidero de Batabanó, there was little sign of government aid on a recent afternoon, although two large tractor-trailer trucks, loaded with building blocks, rumbled through town on a delivery.

Even so, the residents of Surgidero de Batabanó count themselves relatively lucky compared with their neighbors.

The village, which sits about 30 miles south of Havana, serves as a launching point for ferries to the Isla de la Juventud, or Isle of Youth, a popular tourist destination that was devastated by the two hurricanes.

The island, off Cuba’s south coast, remains in the dark after the consecutive storms knocked out electricity.


Formerly known as the Isle of Pines, the island has a prison that once served as a cell for a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro. After a failed attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953, Castro and his accomplices were put on trial for the insurrection against Fulgencio Batista’s government. At the trial, he declared he had no fear of prison, declaring that, ``History will absolve me.’‘

Most of the private homes on the isle that take in guests were among those leveled, making it difficult for residents who relied on precious tourist dollars. According to Cuban press reports, 80 percent of the poultry farming on the Isle of Youth also was seriously affected.

No one knows how long it will be before the isle will be able to restore enough infrastructure to attract tourists, who head there for its age-old cave paintings and outstanding coral reefs. But, for now, many travel officials are steering tourists away.

At Havana’s airport last week, a ticket agent for Cubana airlines urged against visiting the Isle of Youth.

‘‘Why would you want to go there?’’ she asked. ``It’s 100 percent finished.’‘

The name of the correspondent who filed this report was withheld because the reporter did not have the journalist’s visa required by the Cuban government to report from the island.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on September 24, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    You are watching the biggest game of “Survivor” ever played.

    Who will outwit, outlast and outplay to be the next Survivor?

    Probably Fidel Castro.

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  2. Follow up post #2 added on September 24, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    lets be fair ....
    still lots to do in south USA from Katrina and its been a year and usa has whole lot mor resources…
    but yr right in that aspect - if even one one window of fidel’s home had been scratched, it would have been replaced right away.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on September 28, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    but the tourist centers are just fine. More bullshit from the Cuban government ass wipe Prensa Latina

    Cuba Expects 13 percent Growth in Tourism

    Havana, Sep 28 (Prensa Latina) Cuban tourism has vitality, said Manuel Marrero, Cuban Minister of Tourism, in spite of the harm inflicted to this sector´s facilities by hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

    The official said this activity shows 13 percent growth compared to 2007, speaking at the Aula Magna of the University of Havana, on occasion of the World Day of Tourism.

    On the 29th anniversary of this date set by the World Tourism Organization (WTO) the commemoration was organized under the slogan “Tourism facing the climate change challenge”.

    Marrero spoke about the main elements and risks of changes in nature due to human action, mainly in rich countries.

    He referred that Cuba is in favor of sustainable tourism development with protection of the environment and is now engaged in recovering from the damage done by nature through hurricanes.

    He said at this moment, the recreation centres of Holguin, Santa Lucia, Viñales and Pinar del Rio are ready for the high or winter season, beginning next December, despite having been affected by the severe weather events.

    All Cuban tourism capacities will be ready for the season and will boast new attractions, allowing for a better offer over previous years.

    The dean of the faculty of Tourism of the University of Havana, Ramon Martin, highlighted this institution has already graduated 43 professionals and has one thousand 48 students of this career.

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  4. Follow up post #4 added on September 28, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    no actually it makes sense to get teh ourist centers up and running again first - thats what brings the capital into Cuba so that the money is there for rebuildng the Cuban part of Cuba.  Even New Orleans did similar hosting a min Mardi Gras while there was still lots to do.
    Its ironic that the element that brings in the most money (by far, i believe) is tourism, which is where communist Cuba is so very very capitalistic ....

  5. Follow up post #5 added on September 28, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I wonder what the Cubans think about that priority. Money before people.

    Imagine if Fidel (I now think Raul has less say in Cuba) let the Cuban people actually work for themselves rather than having to rely on the government for housing, income, food, healthcare, education and transportation.

    Nah. That would never work.

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  6. Follow up post #6 added on October 01, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    Little can be done for the people if Cuba’s main source of income—-tourism—-isn’t up and running soon.  Any reconstruction efforts take money, even in communist countries, and with the embargo’s restrictions regarding the use of credit, recovery is bound to be slow.  We’re just beginning a credit crisis of our own, so let’s hope Florida doesn’t get hit with a major hurricane.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on October 01, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    “and with the embargo’s restrictions regarding the use of credit,”

    Cuba can borrow on credit from Russia, China, Venezuela, India etc etc.

    Oh yeah right, I forgot. They never pay their bills so their credit is no good.

    That’s the Embargo’s fault too?

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  8. Follow up post #8 added on October 02, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    What we’ll never know, because of course opinions will vary depending on which camp you belong to, how much of cuba’s hardships is caused by the embargo, and how much of cuba’s problems are caused by its economic and political system which uses the embargo as its scapegoat.  I suppose the truth is somewhere in between.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on October 02, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    You’re exactly right, manfredz.  Cuba’s problems aren’t entirely the embargo’s fault, but neither are they entirely the system’s fault.  I think we can safely say that with virtually 100% accuracy.  And what is also true is that keeping the embargo will do nothing to bring the two countries together.

  10. Follow up post #10 added on October 02, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    MiamiCuban ...
    now mind you this is my personal opinion, and we all know personal opinions may not stand tests, but ....
    I personally think that the embargo has helped maintain both the communist political and economic system, and here’s why.
    As mentioned, it makes for a convenient scapegoat, and i’m sure enough people swallow that line…
    But mainly, its kept interaction between America and Americans to a minimum.  With a lot more interaction, people in Cuba would probably have been much more demanding of change. I however cant decide if this would have led to the system modifying itself (as it has in most other ex-communist countries) or if it would have brought out the tanks and major repression.
    I’m expecting the embargo to show major cracks next year as well as seeing continued change (more major and less window dressing) within Cuba, so hopefully things will look better
    A line I often used when watching East Germany crumble: “Be careful of what you wish for, it may come true”

  11. Follow up post #11 added on October 02, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    True, we all have personal opinions regarding the matter, as you say.  And I suppose I differ somewhat with yours.  Although it’s true that the Cuban government tends to use the embargo as a scapegoat for any failures in the system—-something which is true in some aspects while not in others—-the embargo serves the agenda of the right-wing extremists to a much greater degree.  First of all, it doesn’t allow any of the GOOD things that have come from the revolution to shine through (and I think that anyone who says there is nothing “good” in Cuba is just plain ignorant).  Second, ithe embargo keeps the exile community in a perpetual state of hostility towards Cuba—something which funnels a lot of $$$ from the Federal government.  Third - the hostility between the two countries is what keeps the Diaz-Balart brothers and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in their cozy positions.  Just check their records out in Congress and see how little they actually do for their constitutents -  with them it’s all about Cuba.  Fourth - the psychological warfare as the result of the embargo is what the exile community hopes will spill into a revolt in Cuba at some point -  hasn’t worked, but they still think it’s bound to at any time.  After the recent hurricanes, many thought this was the “end” for Cuba, and again, nothing.  Yes, Cuba keeps pointing the finger at the embargo for all its problems -  those of us who try to see things fairly know that isn’t so.  But the benefits to the core group in Miami (which is dwindling by the way) far outweigh those that the Cuban government could be reaping.

  12. Follow up post #12 added on October 02, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    ” First of all, it doesn’t allow any of the GOOD things that have come from the revolution to shine through “

    Sure. Free housing, healthcare, education and food. The only cost… freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of travel, freedom of the press, freedom to work for yourself.

    Great trade off.


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  13. Follow up post #13 added on October 02, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    actually, publisher, for many people that trade off is worth it, especially if they’ve never had real freedom to understand what they’ve really given up.
    Don’t think too many people feel that most Cuban people had freedom under Batista, and they sure haven’t had it under Castro and Co.
    But, whereas many if not most also didnt have education, healthcare etc before Castro, but have it today (even if by our standard its almost a (sad) joke, the memory of what it was like before is kept very much alive.
    Many Cubans have both a true and in many cases untrue (I know when talking with some cubans how they have problems when I counter their understanding of how we lack such social basics in our country) picture of a future without such basics is the only alternative, and would rather keep those at the expense of these freedoms we take for granted and are so important to us.

    Where they are getting increasing frustrated is that the government is not improving the social and economic picture of most Cubans - with very few Cubans is the freedom issue on the forfront.
    I expect that to change though - as the goverment seems to allow more economic freedoms, people will discover that they’re still too muzzled in by rules that will prevent them from realizing their potential - then freedom will be more important, but i believe economic freedom will be more important to them than the other freedoms you mentioned.
    Only one man’s opinion.

  14. Follow up post #14 added on October 02, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Freedom always trumps everything. Simple as that.

    In the US, if you don’t like your life you have the freedom to change it. Sure, some people would rather complain than take responsibility for their own life but in the US people have the freedom to go live in Cuba if they want.

    Sadly, some Americans who post here seem to think that Cuba is a better place than the US. If so, I encourage them to exercise their freedom to leave.

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  15. Follow up post #15 added on October 02, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    Most Cubans I’ve talked to who have left Cuba, 9 times out of 10 will say they left for economic, not political reasons.  It might be true what manfredz said that perhaps if they were better off economically then they might start demanding more “political freedoms.”  Maybe, and maybe not.  I personally think most would be happy with better food and transportation, quality time with family, friends and neighbors and not have to worry about having $$ for healthcare and education -  than to deal with other demands that a more open society would bring along with it -  like crime, traffic, long work hours, and worrying over what to do come retirement.

  16. Follow up post #16 added on October 02, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    I also hear that from some Canadian and British tourists in other forums, but don’t know of any that have actually settled down in Cuba (guess they must miss their MacDonalds after all).  And even those have hard currency and often live in resorts rather than CPs so have no real understanding of what day to day life is for Cubans.  Have met a few who live tehre 4-6 months during our winter but its to escape the winter here and not because of the great Cuban livestyle that they do that.

    And agree with you that in the long run freedom becomes most important and always triumpfs.  But in the shorter run, people are prepred to limit their personal freedom for other things.

  17. Follow up post #17 added on October 02, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    Publisher, you said:  “In the US, if you don’t like your life you have the freedom to change it.”  Please explain this, I’m just curious.  Please explain how millions of Americans who were swindled by banks via home mortgages can suddenly turn things around for themselves and their families—-without credit, without a house to live in, and without a job that was shipped overseas.  Easier said than done.  Ask any of those people what their views are on “freedom.”  No one is ever entirely free.  I’m sure your situation isn’t 100% what you would like it to be.  You make “choices” but all the choices fall within certain limits.  All that changes from one system to another is the boundaries of those limits, but they’re all limits just the same.

  18. Follow up post #18 added on October 02, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    You really must be unhappy living in this country.

    That is sad but you are right. No one ever got swindled by a mortgage banker in Cuba. Come to think of it no one ever got a mortgage in Cuba.

    So, there you go. Another plus for Cuba.

    Nice job using about 1/2% of the population to make your point about how rotten the United State is.

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  19. Follow up post #19 added on October 02, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    agree that the US (or canada for that matter) is not a perfect country where all have it good.
    But I dont think you would have very many people who would be prepared to swap it life in everyday Cuba.
    Yes it wasn’t quite level how many were convincced to take out a mortgage that they should have known they couldnt afford in the long run and lost everything - but they still have many more opportunities to recover than anyone in Cuba wiould.

  20. Follow up post #20 added on October 02, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    Publisher, I don’t know why you get so agitated over these discussions, being that you run a blog intended to bring in varying opinions.  The U.S. is a great place in many respects —- but it’s far from perfect, and not everyone wants to live here.  Be that as it may, freedom is relative in many respects and depends entirely on circumstances, perspective, and a choice over what is important and what is not.  That varies from individual to individual.  And if Cuba’s economic situation were better and the U.S. and its right-wing-Cuban radicals posed NO threat, directly or indirectly, I might actually choose to live there part of the year.  No, not ALL the time because the U.S. happens to be my birthplace and what I call “home.”

  21. Follow up post #21 added on October 02, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I welcome various opinions but I get bothered when people make arguments when they either don’t know the truth about Cuba or care to ignore certain aspects of it.

    Fidel is the political system in Cuba, not communism or socialism. That’s a big difference from Canadian socialism.

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  22. Follow up post #22 added on October 02, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    Doesn’t sound like you’ve ever been there.  I have.  Several times.  And I have many friends and family who give me their honest assessment—-the good and the bad.

  23. Follow up post #23 added on October 02, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    Also, Canadian socialism doesn’t have to contend with an enemy at its doorstep.  Things might be a little different for them if that were the case.

  24. Follow up post #24 added on October 02, 2008 by pipefitter with 275 total posts

    Well it’s nice to think that we have all the freedom in the world in north america, but I think we are too quick to forget all the ones that we don’t have like- can you send all the money you want to cuba, can you visit cuba legaly from the us, can you bring your family members to visit, can you send gift packages to cuba, can you get a free university education, can you get free medical-dental, do you get free rent? There are many ways that we can and can’t have some forms of freedom and it depends from were you are looking at it.

  25. Follow up post #25 added on October 03, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    Good points.  And I agree that’s what it comes down to in the end—freedom means different things to different people.  And people can suffer the same lack of freedom in “free” societies as they do in “closed” societies.  It’s time the U.S. stopped defining “freedom” for other cultures.

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