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'We’re sitting on a powder keg'

Cuban civil servants acknowledge their concern about the handling of the situation generated by the tornado in Havana.

La Habana

"The government is not helping us, and does not want others to do so either," complained Sonia, a resident of the municipality of Boyeros, as she gathered two packs of food and toiletries for her relatives residing in Regla, one of the four territories most affected by the tornado on Sunday, January 27.

Like many Havanans, she criticizes the obstacles the authorities have placed to direct aid among Cubans and the insistence on everything passing through state channels and institutions.

"Those people - the victims - simply lost everything in a couple of hours. Those who want to help have taken the little they have to help those who are even worse off; that is why we boo Diaz-Canel," explained Sonia, referring to the shouts of residents of Regla at an official delegation that toured affected areas last week.

Although they acknowledge the work of those trying to alleviate the problems in the neighborhoods devastated, Havanans desperate about the serious damage caused by the tornado in San Miguel del Padrón, Regla, Guanabacoa and Diez de Octubre, believe that the actions of the authorities are hindering "the arrival of donations from other Cubans who want to help."

"They tell us that they are evaluating priorities so that the distribution is equitable and ends up where it is most needed. But what they are doing is bureaucratizing the process, while many of us are still here, practically living in the street, and surviving on public charity," said

Danilo Velázquez, a resident of Guanabacoa, in response to the explanation that municipal government officials offer those affected.

Meanwhile, "they are not allowing direct donations," said Tamara López, a resident of Regla, who stated that police and Communist Party officials have ascribed themselves the right to decide who can offer donations and who may not.

"This is no time to dwell on these differences, here we are all Cubans, and it hurts to see how the government actually blocks gestures of solidarity," López said.

Members of civil society have complained that they are not allowed to deliver what they have been able to gather to those affected by the disaster.

Omara Ruiz Urquiola stated that last Wednesday a caravan of five automobiles that was transporting aid for the area of La Colonia, in Regla, and then planned to go to Luyanó, was intercepted by a traffic agent who, after communicating with his superiors via radio, told them that they could not proceed.

They decided to continue on foot, but in the area officials of the municipal government in Regla also prevented them from reaching the most needy.

"It is inhumane to prevent these gestures of solidarity. In Regla there are huge lines to buy rations of chicken, which are not enough for everyone, so not even the Government is guaranteeing the distribution of food. The situation in those places is volatile and there are many 'snitches,'" Ruiz Urquiola noted.

It is difficult to say what will happen to the donations that reach the island for the victims of the tornado, which has claimed the lives of six people to date.

Liborio Mendigutía, based in Hialeah, said that he had received news from people who had managed to deliver donations

"Some say that the police even told those with donations the best way to access the place, but there are accounts and videos that state otherwise ... What is going on?", continued Mendigutía, who sent help through the Cross Check Caribbean agency.

How will the materials be distributed?

As for the State's delivery of items to the victims, a source from the Council of the Municipal Administration of Central Habana confirmed that they had been instructed to transport an undetermined number of mattresses to the four towns affected, but could not specify the prices at which they would be sold.

"It will not be free. Neither do they have the capacity to assist all those in need, so preventing donations from reaching them, both inside and outside of Cuba, is irresponsible, and the people in those places are irate," the source said.

A worker from a construction materials store located in the municipality of Cerro stated that these premises were closed to transport the supplies to a Ministry of the Interior (MININT) warehouse in Boyeros.

"They said that it would be for the people affected, but that didn’t happen. The trucks arrived early on Friday, but they were detoured. The leaders could not agree on where the materials should be unloaded. The trucks left. I saw people crying," said the worker, who identified himself as El Toki.

According to El Toki, after two hours the people were informed that the sale would be on the next day. In the end, everything had to be stored again in the MININT warehouse.

"Another delivery of cement arrived, and there was another mess, because the warehouse managers said there was no space to store all the materials, and that the trucks could not be left in the yard overnight, because that was a lot of responsibility, and several residents volunteered to keep an eye on the place."

In San Miguel del Padrón a Communist Party official –who asked to remain anonymous– questioned the way the government is handling a situation that could lead to a social revolt.

"The response has been very sluggish, and full of meetings in which nobody agrees on how to solve the problem in the shortest time possible," he complained.

The booing of the official commission in Regla "is an indicator that if the situation is not resolved in the coming weeks, we will be dealing with people who are truly indignant, and helpless. We’re sitting on a powder keg," he finished.

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