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Promises vs. Realities: The Tornado and a Bankrupt State

The Cuban government says it will subsidise the reconstruction of the houses, but victims are wary.

La Habana

The tornado took from Maira what little she had. A house of wood and French tile that was preserved almost exactly as she inherited it from her grandparents, and in which she lived with her young son.

The boy kisses her on the cheek and runs off to the free community kitchen opened by the Baptist Church on the Calle Martí, in the municipality of Regla; he's going to look for today's lunch in two nylon bags.

"It’s all gone," says Maira, as she drops into a plastic chair in the middle of the space that one was the living room. The sun heats the boards and the remains of tiles on the floor. "Luckily, we went to a friend's apartment, near the bay. Nothing happened there."

Maira's return was hard, but just as difficult were her attempts to get materials to rebuild part of the house. "We cannot stay forever where my friends are, and, although I'm alone, with the child, some coworkers and neighbors have offered to do the work," she says, "But the sand, cement, and gravel are missing."

The General Director of Institutional Attention at the Ministry of Finance and Prices, Lourdes Rodríguez, stated that to help furnish victims with building materials "it has been decided to reduce the price of these supplies by 50%. And it will be the State Budget that covers this outlay, with the resources planned for the year."

"In the same way, due to the heavy damage to the water tanks reported, a 70% reduction was decided on the price of the tanks marketed for this purpose, a measure implemented only for the victims," the official newspaper Granma reported.

At a press conference, Rodríguez said that to implement this it is necessary to identify all the victims, as well as the types of the damage suffered. Five days after the tornado, no official has ever been to Maira's house to carry out the technical assessment, or seen the desperate eyes of her son nibbling at his food.

$440,000 in subsidies for thousands of Havanans

The payments for the construction materials will be made, according to the authorities, "depending on the economic capacity of each person."

"They will be able to cover expenses in cash, with bank credit, and advances, or a combination of some of these alternatives, or through subsidies. " But they will have to pay.

Horacio, in front of what remains of his house, wonders what he will do: his requests for subsidies will be endless (on his block alone, the 11 families that live there need one).

To make matters even worse, Horacio had just invested his life savings. He had finished a second room on the patio of his house, next to Regla's cemetery, but the 300 km winds swept it away.

"I don't have a cent. Nothing, nothing," he mumbles. "How will I pay for the materials? If I ask for a bank loan, I will go into debt until I die."

He hasn't seen any technician assessing the extent of the disaster either. With little hope, Horacio might sell his land and accept his son's suggestion to move with him to Matanzas.

Despite the calamity, Horacio is relatively lucky: he has a backup plan. Most victims will not be so lucky, especially given the numbers cited by the government.

11 million pesos That is the figure (about 440,000 dollars at the current exchange rate), Havana is available to pay in subsidies, according to the Director of Finance in the capital, Grisel de la Nuez.

The number of damaged homes, ranging in severity, is around 900. Calculations yield only $488 available per house.

Neither Maira, nor her son, nor old Horacio, are engineers, architects or designers, but they know that those three digits are sorely inadequate to rebuilt the damage done, and it is pointless to place any stock in the words of a bankrupt state.

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