Irma hits Cuba: What is the reaction of the Canadian government?

Hurricane Irma passes Cuba on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in a NASA satellite photo.

"Saldremos adelante!" ("We can only move forward!") This is what a colleague exclaimed during one of my several phone calls to Havana in the days after Hurricane Irma unleashed its wrath on the capital. Others, when asked how they, their families, colleagues and neighbours were faring, declared in a similar manner, "We are fighters," "We are never defeated," and "We are in the battle for recovery."

Despite this attitude, they were unanimous in their emphasis that Cuba's situation is "critical," having suffered the most devastating hurricane in 85 years.

And what is the reaction of the Canadian government?

Justin Trudeau's Canadian government is among the Western countries that have not issued any statement of support or solidarity with Cuba. This is a sad reality, given Canada's special relationship with Cuba, having not ever broken diplomatic ties with the country. In fact, Trudeau's father was the first Western leader to visit Cuba and express solidarity with Fidel Castro and "Cuba Libre." Trudeau himself visited Cuba and met Raúl Castro only days before Fidel passed away. Furthermore, Canada has been the biggest source of tourism for Cuba for several decades, to the extent that millions of Canadians have visited the island not once, but multiple times, making Cuba practically a home away from home for many.

One may hope that the Trudeau government will rectify this and at least express its moral support, which would very much encourage Cubans, who are conscious of this special Cuba-Canada relationship forged partially by the Trudeau tradition. As far as critically needed financial and material support, Canada should overcome its self-imposed bureaucracy and provide immediate aid. According to the website of the Cuban Mission in Ottawa, the first on the list of material needs is construction material. Canada is the fifth in the world as far as lumber production and hovers between the first and second of the world’s top exporters of timber products. Should Canada not immediately consider overcoming any obstacle and make use of this plentiful natural resource that is so necessary for Cuba in this critical situation?

In contrast to the governments of Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and the rest of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, solidarity organizations and other institutions in these countries, as well as others, are going all out to raise relief funds at the grassroots level to support Cuba. While all countries in the Caribbean also need this support, Cuba was the hardest hit by Irma in terms of quantity of infrastructure and the number of people affected. It is also a political issue, in terms of supporting the survival of the Cuban Revolution, which is now facing an unprecedented climate challenge. Furthermore, the hurricane season still has close to another three months to go, as some of my colleagues in Havana have pointed out.

The American blockade and Irma

Cuba is also facing a new disinformation campaign from Western mass media. Many are having describe housing and other structures as being "dilapidated," which to an extent is true, especially in cities such as Havana. But is this a feature of the Cuban system? The impression given is that any problematic housing and infrastructure is entirely Cuba’s fault and thus proof of the "failure of socialism." However, what about the effects of the blockade, which was either completely ignored in these reports or reduced to a footnote?

The cumulative effect of the blockade since 1961 seriously hinders normal economic development in Cuba. The blockade itself resulted from the original genocidal goal to make Cuba bend to its knees and give in to the U.S. empire. Watching Cuban TV during and immediately after Irma, it was clear that the blockade has had an exponential effect on the damage, as it has now with the recovery. Take, for example, construction and infrastructures, where "dilapidated" housing is more likely a direct result of the blockade, which led to $30,868,200 in damages in a single year alone, spanning 2015–2016. One of the main causes of damages was the lack of access to lightweight and efficient construction technologies and energy components, which are available on the U.S. market or are produced by subsidiaries of U.S.-based companies. Could this not be the main cause of the "dilapidated" housing, notwithstanding any Cuban domestic insufficiencies?

This situation requires that we in Canada counter the disinformation campaign against the Cuban Revolution and demand the complete lifting of the blockade, as part of our expression of financial, material and moral solidarity with Cuba.

Arnold August, a Canadian journalist and lecturer, is the author of Democracy in Cuba and the 1997–98 ElectionsCuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion and the recently released Cuba–U.S. Relations: Obama and Beyond. Arnold can be followed on Twitter @Arnold_August and Facebook and www.arnoldaugust.com.

Image: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

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