Thursday, May 21, 2015

May Downpours Arrive Ahead of Schedule in Havana

Cuba: May Downpours Arrive Ahead of Schedule in Havana / Ivan Garcia
Posted on May 19, 2015

Until Wednesday, April 29, when intense rains fell on Havana, Agustin —
a private-sector farmer who grows chard, lettuce and peppers on a patch
of parched land on the outskirts of the capital — was looking skyward to
see if he could discern storm clouds on the horizon.

"My yields are low because of the water shortage. I have had to throw
out hundreds of kilograms of vegetables because they were too small and
their color was bad. It hasn't rained for months," says Augustin, who is
now worried because too much water is falling on his crops.

National meteorologist Jose Rubiera had declared that the island was
experiencing record heat levels in the month of April. It seemed that
the rains would have to wait.

May's traditional downpours occurred over the course of a few days in
western and central Cuba but in the eastern part of the country the
widespread drought has continued to raise alarms at the Institute of
Hydraulic Resources. Various dams and springs are dry or at very low levels.

In the poor neighborhoods of Santiago de Cuba, Mayari and Guantanamo,
water from an aqueduct arrives every nine days. Tomas, a resident of
Granma province, 800 kilometers east of Havana, reports that water is
delivered there by truck.

"No one goes out onto the street at noon. The city is like a desert. The
ground is as hard as stone. If it does not start raining in Oriente by
May, the government will have to declare a state of emergency," he says
by phone.

Countless homes in Cuba are without tap water twenty-four hours a day.
Typically, families must buy it in order to drink, cook, wash dishes, do
laundry and bathe.

"It is often stored in plastic containers that previously held
industrial products. As a result potable drinking water can become
contaminated. When storage facilities are not maintained properly, they
can become breeding grounds for Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit
Dengue fever, chikungunya infections and diarrheal diseases," says an
epidemiology official.

Like Augustin, Leticia, a Havana shopkeeper, was also gazing at the sky,
hoping it would finally bring the blessed rain. Sitting on a wooden
bench, surrounded by bags of Vietnamese rice and Cuban brown sugar, she
tries to relieve the summer heat by fanning herself with a piece of

"When there is no rain, the heat is unbearable. The worst thing is when
you get home, want to take a shower and the building's water pump is
broken or there is no water in the tank. The fan just gives off a stream
of hot, dry air. I really envy those who have air conditioning," she
said on April 28, one day before it rained heavily in Havana.

Moraima, a retiree, no longer has to sit on her porch to listen to soap
operas on the radio to see if the air is blowing. "I was thinking it
would never cool off. This heat takes away your appetite. You want to
eat fruits and drink milkshakes. Two large mangoes cost me 25 pesos.
People wonder if it is because of the damned blockade (embargo) that
there are no cheap fruits like we always used to have in Cuba," she
notes angrily.

The heat, rain and hurricanes cannot be blamed on Yankee imperialism,
although in some of his periodic rantings Fidel Castro still accuses
modern capitalism of altering the environment by releasing
disproportionate amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Air conditioning is still a luxury in Cuba. Only the cars of ministers,
generals and tourists are climate controlled. It takes a strong
disposition to travel by bus or public taxi, no matter the time or day.
State inspectors who could pass for Luca Brasi (a character from The
Godfather) ply the streets looking to see what money they can make from
bribes and kickbacks.

"These people (inspectors and police) are really corrupt. They're always
walking by my stall, trying to "hustle" a few pesos off me. There's
nothing to stop them," says Arnaldo, the owner of a produce stand in the
La Vibora neighborhood.

In a country where good news is hard to come by, the newspaper
Granma announced on April 20 that 80,000 induction ranges would be made
available to families on public assistance. Made in China, they will
cost 500 pesos and can purchased in installments.

"These stoves reduce energy consumption because of the efficiency of the
electric burners," claimed a bureaucrat of the Ministry of Domestic
Trade. In 2006 Fidel Castro led his final campaign, which he called the
Energy Revolution. It included the nationwide distribution of
refrigerators, rice cookers and Russian air conditioners.

At the time the state offered payment plans. Nine years later, the
number of people in default is in the thousands. "They break down just
by looking at them. Not only that, but the state has been robbing us for
fifty-six years, so my revenge is to not pay them one penny for the
trinkets they've given me," says Raudel, who still owes the bank for the
credit it extended him.

The farmer Augustin and many Havana residents were eagerly awaiting the
arrival of May, typically the rainy month in Cuba. But the weather was
ahead of schedule and on Wednesday, April 29, a terrifying downpour
fell, which led to three deaths, floods, landslides and the evacuation
of more than two thousand people, among other damages.

"We wanted the rain to give us a break from the heat but not like this,"
says Leticia, the shopkeeper. "I guess you can't control nature."

Ivan Garcia

Source: Cuba: May Downpours Arrive Ahead of Schedule in Havana / Ivan
Garcia | Translating Cuba -

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