Barbarism and socialism

The whole Hurricane Katrina disaster response has been beaten to death by the media and everyone else in the blogosphere. Thus what I write is nothing new(s). However an interesting article caught my eye. It talks about how Cuba, for long the communist nemisis of Although it is a small, poor country in the heart of hurricane alley, Cuba is widely acknowledged to do an exemplary job of protecting its 11.3 million residents from natural disastersthe US deals with hurricanes.

While people in the US were wondering.

“How could this be happening in the United States?”, asked the headline of a September 3 Washington Post article in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “People around the world cannot believe what they’re seeing”, the Post reported. “From Argentina to Zimbabwe, front-page photos of the dead and desperate in New Orleans, almost all of them poor and black, have sickened them and shaken assumptions about American might. How can this be happening, they ask, in a nation whose wealth and power seem almost supernatural in so many struggling corners of the world?”

 

and others proclaimed a

“Third World America”, declared a headline in the September 3 London Daily Mail. “Law and order is gone, gunmen roam at will, raping and looting, and as people die of heat and thirst, bodies lie rotting in the street. Until now, such a hellish vista could only be imagined in a Third World disaster zone.”

 

there was one country which

When it comes to disaster prevention and recovery, there is one Third World country that even the US corporate media has begun to compare favourably with the US — socialist Cuba, a small island nation suffering a four-decade-long US economic blockade .

 

As someone observed

When it comes to disaster prevention and recovery, there is one Third World country that even the US corporate media has begun to compare favourably with the US — socialist Cuba, a small island nation suffering a four-decade-long US economic blockade .

 

Read on for the full story.

 

UNITED STATES: Barbarism and socialism

Marce Cameron

“How could this be happening in the United States?”, asked the headline of a September 3 Washington Post article in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “People around the world cannot believe what they’re seeing”, the Post reported. “From Argentina to Zimbabwe, front-page photos of the dead and desperate in New Orleans, almost all of them poor and black, have sickened them and shaken assumptions about American might. How can this be happening, they ask, in a nation whose wealth and power seem almost supernatural in so many struggling corners of the world?”

“Third World America”, declared a headline in the September 3 London Daily Mail. “Law and order is gone, gunmen roam at will, raping and looting, and as people die of heat and thirst, bodies lie rotting in the street. Until now, such a hellish vista could only be imagined in a Third World disaster zone.”

For a few days, billions of people around the world watched with horror and disbelief as the administration of US President George Bush dithered — like the emperor Nero who played a fiddle while Rome burned — with breathtaking disregard for human lives.

Caught off guard, the corporate media could not sanitise the ugly truth. TV journalists, choking back tears, found themselves rescuing stranded residents from the rising floodwaters while others sided openly with the outraged working poor of New Orleans.

It was another blow to the claims of US capitalism’s leaders and apologists that their society represents the highest expression of civilisation and respect for human dignity. Today, the barbarous reality of US imperialist capitalism is becoming clearer to vast numbers of people. The lies used to justify the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq have been thoroughly exposed, as has the systematic torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo Bay. The failure of the US occupation army to crush the patriotic Iraqi resistance movement has made a mockery of the US rulers’ dream of a “New American Century” of global domination.

Now, Hurricane Katrina has laid bare the “Third World” within the heartland of the US empire.

When it comes to disaster prevention and recovery, there is one Third World country that even the US corporate media has begun to compare favourably with the US — socialist Cuba, a small island nation suffering a four-decade-long US economic blockade .

The September 9 issue of the St Petersburg Times, published in Florida, ran a story headlined “Can we learn from Cuba’s lesson?”, in which it observed: “Before Hurricane Ivan whipped Cuba last year with 160 mph winds, the government evacuated nearly 2 million people. The result: not a single death or serious injury.

Although it is a small, poor country in the heart of hurricane alley, Cuba is widely acknowledged to do an exemplary job of protecting its 11.3 million residents from natural disasters.

“Although it is a small, poor country in the heart of hurricane alley, Cuba is widely acknowledged to do an exemplary job of protecting its 11.3 million residents from natural disasters. Its record is even more impressive in light of the catastrophic loss of life that the United States — the world’s richest and most technologically advanced nation — is experiencing from Hurricane Katrina.

“‘Cuba has not only an evacuation plan but an overall plan for hurricanes and other disasters that is very well developed and organized’, says Dusan Zupka of the United Nations’ International Secretariat for Disaster Reduction. ‘I would dare to say that Cuba is a good example for other countries in terms of preparedness and prevention’.”

The article cited a study by Oxfam, a charity that works in ravaged areas worldwide, that concluded that the “single most important thing about disaster response in Cuba is that people cooperate en masse”.

The St Peterburg Times went on to report: “As Hurricane Georges approached in 1998, a foreign aid worker living in Havana was astonished by the attention to preparedness, she told Oxfam. ‘We had a steady stream of neighbors in and out of our apartment, counseling us to fill the bathtub with water, tape the windows, unplug all electrical items, get batteries or candles and put the car in the garage.’ At the same time, a neighborhood representative from the Federation of Cuban Women checked on the vulnerable population including elderly people and single mothers who might need help evacuating. “Everyone, even the children, knew what to do”, the foreigner noted.

“Cuba revamped its civil defense system after a 1963 hurricane killed more than 1000 people. Since then, disaster planning has been so finely honed that just 16 lives were lost between 1996 and 2002 despite six hurricanes, three of them major.”

“Despite its poverty, Cuba has a high literacy rate — almost 96 percent. Instruction in disaster preparedness begins in grade school and continues through higher education and into the workplace.

“Under a 1976 law, every adult receives civil defense training. Before a new hurricane season starts on June 1, authorities review and revise disaster plans based on the prior year’s experience. In May, the entire country goes through a two-day hurricane drill, called Meteoro, that includes such practical measures as trimming tree limbs and checking for weaknesses in dams before a storm hits.

“Most important, all those living in high-risk areas know beforehand where to take refuge — in sturdy homes on high ground or in group shelters, usually schools. Every shelter is stocked with food, water and medical supplies. There are even plans for moving electrical appliances and other valuables.

“‘In countries where this is not the case, some people are very hesitant to evacuate because they are afraid of looting’, Zupka says.

“When a hurricane threatens, Cuba mobilizes under National Civil Defense, which coordinates preparedness from the federal level on down. Radio and TV broadcast continual updates on the storm from the country’s meteorology institute.”

On July 8 this year, Cuba was lashed by Hurricane Dennis, which caused US$1.4 billion in damages and the deaths of 16 people. The July 16 issue of the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde carried an opinion piece by “Zarathustra”, a Spaniard visiting Cuba at the time of the hurricane, who related how Cuban President Fidel Castro “converted the television studio into a general headquarters for coordination in the preparation of national defense against the catastrophe”.

As in the US in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “the barriers between reality and television were broken”, wrote Zarathustra. But “this was not a performance; they were real coordinations, on a national scale. The information … dealt with every detail of technical problems, of [the] generation of electricity, of each line of transportation or the evacuation of any locality.”

“The general impression of this huge mobilisation of a socialist country is to observe a society of responsible adult citizens, well organized, with solidarity, accustomed to confront, collectively, all kinds of situations. Cuban society has again demonstrated the enormous level of conscience, cohesion and organisation and its leaders, some in simple olive green uniforms, the majority in T-shirts, with khaki trousers or jeans, perspiring like any worker, were barely different from the common people they represent. Above all, Cuban authorities watched over human lives.

“Two days after the hurricane passed completely, June 11, normality returned to Havana. The most affected provinces advanced in the phase of recovery. The key word was: rapidly. In the capital, provisions have been re-established, damages evaluated, streets cleaned up of fallen trees and branches- all done by the grassroots organisations of Popular Power [Cuba’s system of representative government] and neighbourhood solidarity. In socialist Cuba it would just become water under the bridge in a few days because the meteorological giant ran into a human giant.”

Jonathan Williams is an architect from Uganda who now lives in the US. Pointing to the delayed arrival of relief and aid supplies in New Orleans, Williams told the New York Times that “there is just total disarray. You cannot just blame the president, or any one person. Everyone is partly to blame. It’s the whole system.”

Williams is right. The stark contrast between the Cuban and US responses to natural disasters can only be explained by the fact that Cuba’s system of government is the polar opposite of that of the US. Rather than a political system run by and serving a tiny minority of super-rich families, as is the case with US capitalist “democracy”, Cuba’s system of government is run by and serves the interests of working people.

While the US social order is a decaying and predatory system based on corporate plunder at home and abroad, in revolutionary Cuba, human wellbeing is the guiding principle of society.

George Bush junior, a barely literate alcoholic, played cowboy at his ranch while New Orleans drowned. By contrast, Fidel Castro, who told US film-maker Oliver Stone in 2003 that he hadn’t had a holiday since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, personally directed Cuba’s response to Hurricane Dennis.

Cuba, with a per capita GDP about one tenth that of the US, has a lower infant mortality rate than the US. Cuba’s constitution commits the state to rebuild homes destroyed by hurricanes; in New Orleans, families who couldn’t afford to insure their homes will be left destitute.

The barbarity of US capitalist society — on display in the New Orleans disaster — gives us a nightmarish glimpse of one possible future for the world’s working people. Amid this descent into barbarism, Cuba provides a glimpse of a different, beautiful possibility — the socialist future of humanity.

From Green Left Weekly, September 21, 2005.

One Comment

  1. Copy Cat September 19, 2005

    Just read the link n compare!!

Comments are Disabled