November 2016        

A tale of two systems

Seán Joseph Clancy

In a real rather than an ideological sense, the benefits and moral superiority of a truly socialist-based society are experienced by that society’s members, and witnessed by anyone willing to see, during times of crisis.
     On the evening of 4 October last the category 4 hurricane Matthew (on a scale with an upper limit of 5) smashed into the easternmost tip of Cuba’s Guantánamo province. When it departed from the national territory some hours later what it left in its wake was truly Hiroshima-esque. Still photographs of the devastation could not convey the consequent harsh reality and human heartache Matthew left behind. The broader view that came from the first images by television journalists from a Revolutionary Armed Forces helicopter gave a better sense of the shocking and awesome destruction.
     Nobody died in Cuba as a result of the violent storm. As yet the death toll in Haïti, where it had wreaked havoc before arriving in Cuba, has not been established. It’s safe to say that there are more than five hundred dead, many thousands injured, and hundreds of thousands left homeless and destitute to face despairingly the perils of cholera and other infectious diseases.
     It is noteworthy that the first help and friendly faces that thousands of these unfortunate comrades have already encountered, or will encounter, will not represent their own government, the United Nations, or any agency from an EU member-state, far from (and responsible for) the horrific misery Haïti has been abandoned to for centuries past. They have been helped, treated and healed by Cuban health professionals, many still unaware of how their own families, friends and communities at home have fared.
     This wonderful—and, sadly, necessary—courageous and life-saving solidarity, a hallmark of the Cuban Revolution since its triumph in 1959, is truly a beautiful thing to behold.
     Of course you won’t read about it in Denis O’Brien’s or any other capitalist news rag. Non-profit solidarity is not something they are inclined to promote.
     In a way that is as grossly criminal and offensive as the laws to protect profits and ships full of grain sailing from Irish ports as millions of our grandparents lay starving on Ireland’s roadsides, O’Brien has taken thousands of millions of dollars out of Haïti over recent decades, almost all with the help of Mr and Mrs Clinton.
     Poor Haïti . . .
     O’Brien’s “lifetime contributions” (in fact a loophole to evade single-donation transparency regulations) to Clinton fund-raising efforts have already surpassed $25 million . . . Imagine what his total theft must amount to on the basis of this figure alone.
     Less than one out of every hundred dollars actually donated (rather than promised and then reneged on) for relief in Haïti following the earthquake there reached a victim in need. The other ninety-nine were spent (stolen?) on rent, vehicles, salaries, services, entertainment, communications, consultations, security, staff, evaluations, studies and other such niceties, to ensure that the noble servants of the multi-million-dollar and fundamentally fraudulent disaster and poverty industries could enjoy “decent” working conditions.
     A rich, comfortable, primarily white, well-financed and only somewhat transitory oligarchy arose to complement forces of occupation disguised as peacekeepers . . .
     In the United States, where disaster prevention and relief is a great “everyone for himself” free-for-all, many lives were also lost, and many more—as with Hurricane Katrina—have been abandoned to their fate.
     In Cuba, from the moment a regional tropical front is noted on weather charts and a reasonable hypothesis about its trajectory can be established, the meteorology services are on the alert. As in every other element of society here, a socialist ethos permeates all their reporting. If the front becomes a tropical storm, very detailed and practical information is provided. All relevant agencies are alerted to the potential threat.
     If the trajectory seems likely to cross the national territory and the storm increases to hurricane force, harm-prevention measures are implemented where required, and preparations for evacuation and emergency situations are initiated.
     Everything the evacuees might need, including medical care for everyday ailments, food, information, and communications, is provided for those who will not stay with family or friends.
     Once it is established that the weather event will affect Cuba, the operation begins. Evacuations are massive—in the case of Hurricane Matthew almost 400,000 people—orderly and calmly efficient affairs. None of the fears of theft for leaving the little that some own unattended, which causes countless deaths elsewhere, arise.
     The President of the Republic, government ministers with responsibility for all relevant departments and all other military, statutory and administrative authorities are on the ground in the area, overseeing all operations. Their very presence offers moral support, a sense of security and solidarity to the population. Many are still in the area as I write, ten days after the storm. Their supervision of recovery lends a seriousness and a serenity to this traumatic phase.
     Before evacuations, recovery and response plans have been activated, all necessary personnel, equipment, resources and services are moved as close to the affected zone as is safe, for deployment immediately after the danger has abated.
     Cuba is a poor, criminally blockaded Third World country with serious economic problems, one often cynically criticised for a “poor” human rights record. It nonetheless makes incredible and inspiring efforts and sacrifices to ensure that its most vulnerable citizens are guaranteed their most basic rights: to life, shelter, comfort, sustenance, care and material support in the face of phenomena that overpower the abilities and faint will of its rich, powerful, critical, cynical and greedy neighbour to the north.
     Everyone whose home has been damaged by the hurricane will have at least half the cost of repairs covered by the state and can easily avail of low-interest credit to cover the other half. Others who need more or a different form of support will get it.
     The first that many of our brothers and sisters in Haïti knew about Hurricane Matthew was when strong winds and rain prophesied an imminent mortal assault. Preparation and prevention consisted of disheartened efforts to gather up and endeavour to protect whatever few miserable possessions they might have.
     Shelter and evacuation were non-existent, while recovery consists of the desperate and fatalistically resigned waiting in the vain hope that someone or somebody might appear.
     The dead are buried (or not), food is scarce, rancid, or non-existent, and diseases thrive in the wreckage of a storm and criminal colonial rape and abandonment.
     Perhaps the most telling—and undoubtedly the saddest and most moving—of the differences between the experiences of Cuban and hurricane victims are not material. They can be deciphered from the faces of those interviewed by news media about their experiences and circumstances.
     Cuban victims, of course saddened and traumatised by their losses, all seem not only healthy and well but also determined, dignified, strong, grateful, patriotic, robust, and defiant in the knowledge that their Revolution will not abandon them and that not one life has been lost.
     The contrasting hopelessness, despair, unwellness, shock, confusion, fear, hunger, thirst and tragic desolation and living death in the eyes, voices and hearts of their Haïtian counterparts should evoke compassion, outrage and fury in every right-minded human being.
     In a world of plenty, nobody should be so condemned to misery by the present-day corsairs of capitalism.
     I am not slow to criticise the many flaws, failings and frustrations of everyday life in Cuba. But there are moments and events that put such trivialities into context and remind those of us who have been chanting it for years:
     A better world is possible.
     Hasta Deciembre y la victoria siempre!

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