Hurricane Georges: A tale of two systems
By Greg Butterfield, Workers World, 8 October 1998
A powerful tropical storm, Hurricane Georges, swept over the Caribbean in late September, wrecking homes, flooding streets and upending the lives of millions of workers.
The storm hit St. Kitts and Nevis, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before plowing into the U.S. Gulf Coast. Hundreds are reported dead from the storm and casualties are expected to grow.
IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Comit, Puerto Rico '98, and other solidarity groups are organizing material aid. These efforts aim to extend support to the working class and poor, whose needs--except in Cuba--are often overlooked by governments and private charities.
A CLASS ISSUE
At first glance it might seem that a natural disaster like Hurricane Georges is not a class issue. But how a society prepares for an emergency like Georges, who is affected, and how the country is rebuilt has everything to do with the distribution of wealth and power.
In capitalist countries like the United States, and in most Caribbean nations under the heel of U.S. big business, the poor and the workers suffer most in a disaster. They may lose their homes, their families and their livelihoods-- something the super-rich never have to fear.
U.S. President Bill Clinton declared Puerto Rico--a U.S. colony for 100 years--a federal disaster area.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency promised aid to 30,000 people who've lost their homes and are living in cramped quarters in public schools, auditoriums and churches.
Jose Crespo of Arecibo was skeptical of FEMA. He said it aids businesses and wealthy areas, but not his working-class neighborhood. "They've got two guys making checks on about 500 people," Crespo said.
More than 100 people died in Haiti. The U.S. Army's excuse for occupying Haiti is to help rebuild the country's infrastructure. Yet many people drowned because there were no public shelters for people fleeing their homes.
Hardest hit was the Dominican Republic, with over 200 deaths confirmed by Sept. 29 and hundreds of thousands homeless. Government estimates put damages there at over $3 billion. That's half a billion more than the country's annual budget.
Dominican President Leonel Fernandez said half the country's power grid was destroyed and 90 percent of its banana crop was lost.
So far U.S. disaster aid to the Dominican Republic has amounted to just $500,000 worth of supplies--a drop in the bucket. The most visible U.S. response has been anything but humanitarian.
According to the Sept. 25 UPN-9 TV News in New York, the United States has sent a team of New York City cops to help police the streets of the Dominican Republic. These same police have carried out many killings and other acts of brutality against New York's Dominican, Puerto Rican, Haitian and other communities.
Like Puerto Rico and Haiti, the Dominican Republic has long been exploited for profit by U.S. imperialism. In 1965, U.S. troops invaded the Dominican Republic and overthrew a progressive nationalist government to protect Wall Street's economic control.
Carlos Rovira, an organizer for Comit, Puerto Rico '98, predicts the United States will try to use the devastation caused by Hurricane Georges to tighten its military and economic grip on these countries. "Colonialism uses every natural disaster to further its domination," he told WW.
CUBAN PEOPLE MOBILIZE
Hurricane Georges also hit socialist Cuba. The storm's assault was concentrated in the island's eastern provinces of Oriente and Guantanamo. Havana and other major cities, though hit by severe weather, were spared the storm's full force.
But Cuba's revolutionary government, labor unions and popular organizations took no chances. In the days before Georges struck, the whole nation was mobilized. And while there was heavy agricultural damage, only six lives were lost.
More than 200,000 people were evacuated along the eastern coastline. Cuba's revolutionary army and many volunteers went into the fields to harvest as much as possible before the crops were lost.
In cities and towns throughout Cuba, members of Committees for the Defense of the Revolution went door to door. Union representatives talked to workers at every job site. They made sure everyone was alerted.
Cuba is not a rich country. Until the revolution of 1959, it too was dominated by U.S. big business. But the country's socialist system, based on working-class power and solidarity, forms the basis for its successful civil-defense system.
President Fidel Castro appeared live on national television three times before the storm hit. He outlined in detail the country's plans to withstand the hurricane.
"We have to be ready for any turn of events," he warned hours before Georges reached the island. "What has enabled us to survive is revolutionary unity."
He also promised, "No one will be forgotten."
Government and Communist Party leaders were dispatched to eastern Cuba to help organize the evacuation and clean-up efforts.
President Castro said all the country's resources would be mobilized on behalf of those who lost their homes.
Socialism can't prevent natural disasters. But when one occurs, a people-before-profit system can minimize loss of life and maximize a fair and just rebuilding afterward.
CUBA'S WILL TO RESIST
Just hours after the storm passed, President Castro addressed the national congress of the CDRs in Havana Sept. 25. Castro congratulated the neighborhood defense groups for their role in the country's organized and united response to the hurricane.
Castro said Cuba is ready to resist both hurricanes and "ideological winds, the winds of corruption with which imperialism seeks to destroy the revolution." Communist principles, he said, "cannot be carried away, cannot be blown down by winds."
And recalling that Washington has tried to use times of natural disaster to destabilize Cuba, President Castro declared: "With the same speed which we can evacuate thousands of people, we can also arm thousands of combatants" to defend the revolution.
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