Some Say Assistance Given to White Cubans First
For centuries, Santiago de Cuba has been a loud and lively city nestled at the foot of mountains that meet the Caribbean Sea. Birthplace of people like Desi Arnaz, Rita Marley, and Afro-Cuban military genius Antonio Maceo, Santiago and its residents are always vibrant. It is because of this that a walk around the densely-populated city in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy indicated that something was very wrong. "Santiago is wrapped in a deafening silence of despair," said Dr. Alberto Jones of the Caribbean American Children's Foundation, who grew up in nearby Guantanamo and had been in Cuba visiting family and friends when the killer storm hit.
Ventura Figueras Lores
What Jones witnessed in Santiago was not limited to Cuba's second city. He describes what he saw in places like Songo, La Maya, and Guantanamo as "horrifying, devastating, and unbelievable." Describing the damage inflicted on Eastern Cuba as "massive," Jones added that "hundreds of roads are blocked and overflowing rivers have washed away railroad tracks and bridges" in the area. Jones notes that 90 percent of Santiago's residents are Black Cubans.
Ventura Figueras Lores, a reporter in Guantanamo, said that, despite obstacles, "chlorine and other disinfecting products to purify water for human consumption" are being distributed for free through the Cuban government's pharmacy network. Both men point out that rebuilding efforts are already underway. Even nontraditional workers like older adults and children are involved with the process, says Jones.
His wife, Sylvia Jones, says such a proactive approach to hurricanes is nothing new for Cubans.
"Cuba has the best record in the Caribbean as far as casualties after storms are concerned," she said. "Everyone knows where to go, what to do. And they don't wait for you to evacuate — they come and pick you up."
Death Still Strikes
In light of that, the Joneses and many others were devastated by the news that 11 people in Cuba alone were killed because of the storm.
"There are tens of thousands of roofless or windowless homes, schools, healthcare facilities, nursing homes, daycares and cultural centers that were partially or totally destroyed," Jones added. "It is simply heartbreaking."
"Here, despite all of the adversity is a real human hurricane," Figueras said.
He explained that this "human hurricane" is evident by "the people along with the authorities rushing into affected areas with help despite the scarcity of resources."
But while volunteers have been going into Eastern Cuba to aid with the recovery, more help is clearly needed.
"We are asking every concerned and caring individual to open their hearts," said Jones, who has spent more than 20 years directing humanitarian efforts in Eastern Cuba from his home in Northeast Florida.
Mrs. Jones says they must "get the word out," for the need for help for Black Cubans who often do not benefit from the remittances that Cubans in the U.S. (many of whom are white) send to their relatives on the island.