Cuba Transition Project | University of Miami
Cuba was hit in the past few weeks by two major hurricanes that have caused widespread destruction and human misery. This is perhaps the worst natural disaster in the past half-century.
* Over 320,000 houses were damaged by the hurricanes. (1)
* 50% of houses in Holguin have been irreparably damaged (2), 80% of houses in Banes have been destroyed. (3) In Nuevitas, Camaguey, at least 15% of the hotels were damaged. (4)
* 70% of the agricultural production in Villa Clara was destroyed. (5)
* Over 2 million Cubans have been displaced by the storms. (6)
* The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported estimates of damage between $3-$4 billion USD. (7)
* Cuba’s health care infrastructure is severely damaged: in Isla de la Juventud, the general hospital, “Héroes de Baire,” which serves 87,000 people, is not functional. “Comandante Pinares,” a hospital in the municipality of San Cristobal, serving 200,000 people, has been severely damaged. (8)
* In Isla de la Juventud, “4,500 posts are reported down, 530 transformers damaged, 5,000 street lights destroyed and 38,700 electrical isolators and 800 tons worth of conductors are beyond repair.” (9) In Pinar del Rio, 55 km of the primary and secondary electrical network were severely damaged. (10)
* In Pinar del Rio, over 25,900 metric tons of agricultural crops were lost, and another 1,184 damaged. 13,070 hectares of root vegetables, 2,931 hectares of grains, and 543 hectares of fruits and 3,306 tobacco houses have been destroyed. (11)
The next few weeks are critical for the Cuban government as to how it is going to react to meet the basic food, shelter and health needs of the Cuban people. It is also the first real test of General Raul Castro’s administration in a crisis situation. Raul has failed to appear in public, delegating the role of spokespersons to first Vice President Ramon Machado Ventura and second Vice President Carlos Lage. Whether this reflects Raul’s management style or an inability to confront the Cubans in difficult situations or a personal crisis is too early to tell. Given the widespread disillusionment with his administration prior to the hurricanes, his current behavior is not likely to inspire support or gratitude from the Cubans. If the Raul Castro regime is unable to address the basic needs within a short time, levels of frustration and despair will continue to grow.
The intermediate term outlook for economic recovery is dismal. The hyper-bureaucratic and highly centralized nature of Cuba’s decision making process, together with the lack of resources, present formidable barriers to effective recovery efforts. Major reconstruction efforts will take a long time and they may not be totally successful.
In the short term, Cuba’s productive capabilities have been severely affected including significant damage in some key sectors (e.g., agriculture, tobacco, and tourism) further limiting the country’s purchasing power in international markets. In particular, tourism may suffer as foreign visitors curtail their travel plans given Cuba’s uncertain situation. Additionally, labor productivity and discipline will decline further as Cuban workers focus on resolving (resolver) their more pressing shelter and subsistence needs. Activity in the informal economy and black markets will increase as well as corruption, especially as foreign aid arrives and is distributed by military and party bureaucrats.
Even if the Cuban government is able to avoid the short term worst case scenarios of a potential health crises and sustained widespread food shortages, the critical housing shortage and infrastructure reconstruction needs will go largely unmet. Cash strapped, with its credit lines exhausted, and with a reputation for not paying its debts, the Cuban government will not be able to mobilize the enormous financial resources necessary for the reconstruction effort needed. As it has done in the past, it will have to rely on low quality “temporary” repairs rather than reconstruction. Although aid is arriving from the U.S., Russia, Spain, and others, only the promised massive support from the Chavez administration could improve this bleak scenario.
Given this dreary outlook for long term recovery and the government’s inability to meet its citizens’ basic needs, important questions arise regarding the possibility of increased discontent, repression, and particularly the potential for a mass exodus if Cubans see escape from the island as their only option for an improved life. In short, the devastation caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike on top of Cuba’s abysmal sociopolitical and economic conditions could result in increased and prolonged instability.
1. Hernandez, Marta. “Más de 320,000 casas dañadas,” Granma, September 11, 2008.
2. “Holguín: Más del 50% de las viviendas ha sufrido graves daños,” Cuba Encuentro, September 10, 2008.
3. “Prepararnos para la Recuperación,” Granma, September 9, 2008.
4. Robles, Frances. “Rising waters threaten Hurricane Ike-ravaged Cuba,” Miami Herald, September 10, 2008.
5. Robles, Frances. “Rising waters threaten Hurricane Ike-ravaged Cuba,” Miami Herald, September 10, 2008.
6. Williams, Carol J. “Ike Moves into Gulf to Regain Strength,” Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2008.
7. “Los Daños de Ike y Gustav podrían sumar 4.000 millones de dólares,” Cuba Encuentro, September 10, 2008.
8. PAHO (Pan American Health Organization). “2008 Hurricane Season, Cuba Situation Report.”
http://www.paho.org/english/dd/ped/hurricanes2008.htm September 10, 2008.
9. “Cuba: Hurricane Season 2008 Emergency Appeal No. MDRCU001” ReliefWeb.
10. “Cuba: Hurricane Season 2008 Emergency Appeal No. MDRCU001” ReliefWeb.
11. “La agricultura, víctima de Gustav en Pinar del Río,” Granma, September 2, 2008.