Cuba: Surviving Gustav

September 6, 2008

"The maximum gusts of 340 kilometers per hour registered at the Paso Real Meteorological Center, San Diego, Pinar del Rio province, during the passing of Hurricane Gustav, is the highest recorded in Cuba", a September 3 Granma article reported about the hurricane that hit Cuba's western region on August 30.

The article argued, however, that "the real record is that, despite that unusual force and the copious damage, there was no fatality in any part of the country".

Jose Rubiera, director of Cuba's Institute of Meteorology's Forecast Centre, stated that the winds of up to 340 km/h are second on the list of the most intense winds measured on the planet, and the highest recorded during a hurricane.

The devastation was widespread, with 90,000 homes destroyed in Pinar del Rio, according to a September 2 Reuters report.

In his September 3 Granma column, former president Fidel Castro compared the damage to a nuclear explosion: "In all honesty, I daresay that the photos and film footage shown on national television on Sunday reminded me of the desolation I saw when I visited Hiroshima."

A September 1 report noted that 76 lives were lost in Haiti, eight in the Dominican Republic and 12 in Jamaica as a result of Gustav. Haiti was subsequently hit by Hurricane Hanna, which had killed more than 500 people, according to a September 7 AFP report.

Cuban Vice-President Jose Ramon Machado argued that, thanks to the preventative measures Cuba did not lose a single life as a result of Gustav, according to a September 1 Granma report.

According to a September 4 Granma report, visiting East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta stated in Havana: "I congratulate you on your efforts to protect human lives. Not one was lost, when in other places, the losses would have been in the hundreds."

Cuba is renowned for its emergency plans for dealing with hurricanes, based on the mobilisation and cooperation of the population with organised plans to move massive numbers of people quickly.

When New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the difference between Cuba's response and that inside the richest nation on Earth, the United States, was dramatically revealed. In the US, thousands of poor citizens in New Orleans were abandoned, prompting the September 9, 2005 St Petersburg Times to run an article entitled "Can we learn from Cuba's lesson?".

The article pointed out that, "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."

On August 29 former president Fidel Castro commented as Gustav threatened: "We are lucky to have a Revolution! It is a fact that nobody will be neglected ... Our strong, forceful and farsighted Civil Defense protects our people ..."

He also noted: "The growing frequency and intensity of these natural phenomena show that the climate is changing due to the actions of human beings."

He argued on September 3 that the "battle lies in feeding the hurricane's victims" and that the military were being mobilised to unload supplies in affected areas.

According to, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered to send supplies to assist Cuba, as well as the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

"One has to be alert to all these phenomena [hurricanes] that, like imperialism, the food crisis, and climate change, affect the Caribbean nations", Chavez said.

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