Cuba: A Tale of Two Hurricanes

Ernest Hemingway learned in Cuba that the best way to weather a hurricane is to put your ears to a battery-powered radio and your hands busy with a bottle of rum and a hammer nailing doors and windows shut. The American writer appropriated the typical jargon of Cuban meteorologists and fishermen, who speak of the “sea” in the feminine and of the hurricane as a demon or evil sorcerer, and who, when a storm leaves the island, usually say that “it came in the channel ‘ or that ‘it crossed the country’.

From the clashes with the cyclones and the turbulent waters came this jewel of literature, the old Man and the Sealeading William Faulkner, another giant, to exclaim that Hemingway had found God.

On an island at the Crossroads of the Winds, it is impossible not to live with the hurricane culture that has existed in the Antilles since the oldest evidence of life, around 6,000 years BC. The Taínos, indigenous Cubans, gave their name to the phenomenon and drew a spiral to represent the hurricane, a rotating symbol of the wind that could be embodied in a monstrous serpent capable of enveloping the entire universe in its body .

In both reality and mythology, the hurricane has spawned “egregious fantasies,” according to the greatest Cuban writer, Alejo Carpentier, who was inspired by the meteor’s 1927 pass over Havana to write some passages for his novel Ecue-Yamba-O! The storm, Carpentier wrote, caused the movement of “intact houses several miles from their foundations; Schooners pulled out of the water and turned off at a street corner; granite statues decapitated by a chopping block; Hearses paraded by the wind through squares and avenues, as if driven by ghost coachmen, and on top of that a rail torn from a track, lifted by weight, and hurled against the trunk of a royal palm with such force that it was imbedded in the wood like the arms of a cross .”

There are no essential differences between this description and what we experienced again in Cuba. Hurricane Ian left three dead and more than 89,000 homes affected in Pinar del Río province, causing the destruction of thousands of acres of crops, causing trees and streetlights to fall everywhere, leaving the country in total darkness for hours and thousands of stories, who turn into pale tales everything told by two literary geniuses like Hemingway and Carpentier.

The devastation can have infinite variations, but the hurricane is one of the few things that hasn’t changed for the people of the Antilles in thousands of years. Whatever it may be called, and whatever the strength of its anger, both ancient and modern worlds have viewed it as a creature that comes and goes with the passage of time and is not always cruel. When the excesses do not occur, the water and winds cool the summer heat and benefit agriculture, and everyone is happy.

However, this will be the first time that such a well-known and recurring natural phenomenon crosses Cuba, accompanied by another equal or greater destructive force, artificially created in the new digital laboratories and capable of such evil as our Taíno ancestors could not foresee it.

As gusts of more than 200 kilometers per hour blew north of Pinar del Río, more than 37,000 accounts on Twitter replicated the hashtag #CubaPaLaCalle (Cuba on the streets) with calls for protests, roadblocks, attacks on government institutions, sabotage and terrorism and instructions on how to make homemade bombs and Molotov cocktails. Less than 2% of the users who took part in this virtual mobilization were in Cuba.

Most of those making the call to “cheer on” the streets of Cuba were linked to American technology platforms and were doing so hundreds of miles from the country that remained obscure. Perhaps some on the island kept their battery-powered radio. However, what millions of Cubans were holding in their hands was not a bottle of Hemingway’s rum, but an internet-connected mobile phone (the country of 11 million has 7.5 million people with access to social media).

Let’s do an exercise. Imagine this panorama: You are struggling with the here and now. They have no electricity and no drinking water. The few groceries that you have painstakingly bought and kept refrigerated will spoil in no time. You don’t know what happened to your family living in the western provinces where the damage is apocalyptic. You have no idea how long this new crisis will last. Daily life prior to the hurricane was already desperate due to the economic blockade imposed by the United States, inflation and shortages that Cubans were facing. Still, on your phone, you see that “everyone” (on the internet, of course) is fine and had enough, while thousands of people on social media (and their trolls) are screaming that the culprit of your misfortune is the communist government. Your only source of light is the mobile screen, which works like Plato’s allegory of the cave: you sit with your back to a blazing fire while virtual figures pass between you and the campfire. You only see the movements of their shadows projected onto the walls of the cave, and these shadows whisper the solution to your desperate reality: #CubaPaLaCalle.

At no other time in history did an immigrant minority have the economic, media, and technological power to attempt to sink their country with their relatives still living in Cuba before they even attempted to lend a hand in the midst of a national tragedy. What Mexican living in the United States puts political differences ahead of helping their relatives after an earthquake? After Hurricane Julia devastated Central America, why don’t expatriate Salvadorans or Guatemalans do it?

It’s unprecedented and unheard of that the hurricane of a lifetime and the hurricane of virtual hate can come at the same time, but that’s exactly what happened in Cuba.

Rosa Miriam Elizalde is a Cuban journalist and founder of the Cubadebate website. She is Vice President of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) and the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP). She has written and co-written several books including Jineteros en la Habana and Our Chavez. She has received the Juan Gualberto Gómez National Prize for Journalism several times for her outstanding work. She is currently a weekly columnist for La Jornada from Mexico City.

Source: This article was produced by Globetrotter and first published on La Jornada.