After three hurricanes, 'no hay' in Cuba
BY MIAMI HERALD STAFF REPORT
HAVANA -- Even before Hurricane Paloma unleashed more than 140-mile per
hour winds along Cuba's Southeastern coast, many Cubans joked that they
already knew the sequence of the storms that battered the island in the
past three months -- first came Gustav, then Ike and now No Hay, Spanish
for ``there isn't any.''
No hay plantains.
No hay pineapples.
No hay sufficient amount of construction supplies to dole out for all
those looking to rebuild and repair their homes.
So what exactly is left?
''We still have our sense of humor,'' quipped Carlos Humberto, a silver
haired man in his 60s who rents rooms to tourists.
Despite the good-natured attitude, the lack of basic staples is no
laughing matter. Cuba is struggling with an estimated $10 billion in
damages in the aftermath of three storms in the span of three months.
Adding to what was already a housing crisis: more than 500,000 homes
have been destroyed across the island since August. Thousands of
families still find themselves housed at night in school halls and
classrooms in more affected provinces like Camagüey in central Cuba and
Holguín in the northeastern region.
Nightly television news reports from the University of Camagüey show
some 1,000 people still sheltered at the school following Paloma's path
of destruction along the beachside town of Santa Cruz del Sur.
''We will rebuild, but logically we will not build so close to the
water,'' Raúl Castro told the afflicted residents during a recent visit
to the university. ``What's the point of rebuilding next to the water if
we're going to have to rebuild with the next storm?''
Still, promises of reconstruction are hampered by limited supplies of
wood and metal sheets for roofs. Building supplies have been in such
high demand, that government officials have called on the population to
report anyone found to be purchasing more supplies than deemed
necessary, several residents told The Miami Herald.
''It's a good thing,'' said Maria Luz, who makes extra money by braiding
hair for tourists in Old Havana. ``It protects us from people who want
to buy up all the supplies to resell it for higher prices.''
After Hurricanes Gustav and Ike swept the country in August and
September, flatbed trucks stacked with with green plantains were
dispatched to bring food to storm-ravaged residents. At the time,
residents joked that they would be eating platanos for weeks.
Now, with nearly one third of the country's crops destroyed during the
first two storms, plantains are hard to find. Even tourists hoping to
score plantain dishes from restaurants are told to choose another dish
on the menu.
''We're able to get malanga but plantains are hard to come by,'' said
Duniel, 23, who shuttles tourists around on a bicycle taxi throughout
the Old Havana neighborhood. ``If you get some, they are all black,
Also hard to come by are various kinds of fruits, especially pineapples.
Many of the agricultural fields where they grow, also were destroyed by
the storm. Carlos Humberto, the man who rents rooms to tourists, is used
to providing his guests with fruit salad for breakfast each morning.
Now, he laments having to apologize for having only a few slices of
pineapple to offer.
''Even to get the pineapple, I had to ride my bike from market to
market,'' Carlos Humberto said.
Even though the United States has offered as much as $6 million in aid
on five separate occasions following the storms, Cuban officials have
rejected the money, stating the economic embargo should be lifted, instead.
On the streets of Havana, many Cubans still are hopeful for eventual
U.S. assistance -- energized by the news of Barack Obama's election to
''We are hopeful that he will change relations with Cuba,'' said
Francisco Mora Garcia, 43, sitting on the steps of Havana's aging and
mold-ridden Capitolio building. ``Isn't he known among Americans as a
man of change? We hope so.''
Mora Garcia, who said he fled the island during the 1980 Mariel boat
exodus and once lived in California before he was deported six years ago
following an arrest for a violation he called minor, also was looking
for change on the streets of Havana.
He begged for spare change, shampoo, soap or any else tourists were
willing to hand over.
''Its a hard life here and its not getting easier,'' he said.