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    Cuba Hurricane Relief & Re-Construction Campaign

    Introduction by Tamara Hansen*
    The letter below is an important appeal for donations towards relief and reconstruction in Cuba after Hurricanes Gustav, Hannah and Ike. Written by Keith Ellis (professor, author, poet and chair of the Cuba Hurricane Fund Committee of the Canadian Network on Cuba -CNC) on September 2nd 2008 after the destruction of Hurricane Gustav and then updated on September 16th after Cuba was hit by Hurricane Ike.

    This passionate letter is both an appeal for funds and an important letter announcing the high spirit and determination of the Cuban people to reconstruct and rebuild their devastated homes, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure. As the people of Cuba and the Cuban government are uniting and rebuilding their country, we must lend a supporting hand!

    As outlined below, donations for Cuba Hurricane relief are being accepted by local Cuba solidarity groups and will be contributed to the national campaign to raise funds, organized by the Canadian Network on Cuba.

    There are two ways to make a donation (tax deductible receipts are available for people in Canada):

    1- If you are in Vancouver, BC: mail your cheque payable to “Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba” with your name, address and phone number, clearly stating “For Cuba Hurricane Relief”. These donations will be added together with other donations from Vancouver and sent with a list of the names, addresses, phone numbers and the amount of the donation of the individual donors to the Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund (Registered charitable organization # 88876 9197). Then send cheques to: PO Box 56067, 1st Ave RPO, 1690 Nanaimo Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V5L 5E2

    2- If you are outside of Vancouver: send your cheque made payable to the “Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund”, clearly stating “For Cuba Hurricane Relief” on the memo line, together with your name, address and telephone number. Envelopes should be addressed to: Mackenzie- Papineau Memorial Fund, Attn: S. Skup, Treasurer, 56 Riverwood Terrace, Bolton, Ontario, L7E 1S4

    *Tamara Hansen is the coordinator of VCSC, as well as Co-chair of the Canadian Network on Cuba

    By Keith Ellis

    Dear Friends,

    Gustav and Ike have caused the worst storm damage in Cuba’s history. As you already know, Cuba has once more suffered the fierce attack of a hurricane. This one, Gustav, is considered to be the most devastating in the last forty years. Having caused severe flooding in its early stages in eastern Cuba, it grew in strength and size in the warm Caribbean waters and, after demolishing the special municipality of the Isle of Youth with its awful force, invaded Pinar del Río, Cuba’s most westerly province. By this time it had achieved a diameter of some 450 kilometers with the most destructive winds and rains packed into the eastern side of the monster. Although Pinar del R<ío bore the brunt of the damage, ravaged by sustained winds of 240 kph, with gusts as high as 350 kph, the area of damage extended to include the provinces of Havana, City of Havana and Matanzas. Update: One week later Hurricane Ike also hit Cuba and traveled lengthwise across the whole island causing great damage.

    UN assessment is 4 to 6 billion in damages for Cuba. The Cuban government has issued their preliminary estimate of the damage wrought by hurricanes Gustav and Ike. It makes for sobering reading. The total damage is estimated at $5 billion and can rise, with more than 440,000 homes damaged, more than 63,000 totally destroyed. For details on agriculture/businesses/ infrastructure, etc, the extensive report is available at: www.granma.cubaweb.cu/2008/09/16/nacional/artic03.html

    The damage touched all sectors of the economic and social life of various regions, and with Ike the whole island. In large parts of Pinar del Río and Isla de la Juventud, houses, schools, hospitals and other public buildings that weren't demolished, lost their roofs or suffered other kinds of damage. This means that warehouses that stored supplies and commodities such as rice, sugar, flour, tobacco, could not avoid exposing them to the elements. Cultural and recreational facilities were damaged or destroyed. Ferris wheels were turned into mangled metal, as were transmission towers used for electricity or communications. Damaged high-tension power lines, roads and bridges added to the toll. The agricultural sector has suffered severely. Hundreds of hectares of bananas fell early, as did citrus fruit. Sugar cane was massively affected, and sophisticated irrigation equipment was ruined. The part of the fishing industry based in the Isla de la Juventud was gravely hurt.

    The good news is that, thanks to the precautionary measures, in which Cuba leads the world and which involved moving a quarter of a million people to safe shelter, not a single life was lost during Hurricane Gustav. Five lobster fishermen who were missing at sea for a time were found after an intensive air and sea search. For Ike, almost a quarter of the whole population of Cuba was evacuated. Five died with Hurricane Ike and for Cuba that's a very high total.

    Cuba, like other Caribbean countries and parts of the United States, occupies a geographical space that is in the path of hurricanes. This space is now more prone then ever to disastrous hurricanes as a result of climate change. Hardly had Gustav passed than Hanna and Ike appeared on the weather map like a caravan of doom. Cuba is the country least to be blamed for the deteriorating climatic conditions that fuel hurricanes. Let us remember that when the World Wildlife Fund in 2006 evaluated countries, human development and environmental protection, they found that Cuba was the only country that met the criteria.

    Hurricanes will continue to batter Cuba. The island can frustrate them only to a certain extent, chiefly through deepening scientific knowledge of their behaviour and the achievement of a social organization based on solidarity, trust, egalitarianism and fairness.

    The day after Gustav passed, the civil defense plans were put into immediate action - involving the whole island to help the devastated areas. Roads were being cleared and swept, food was being shipped to affected areas from provinces that were better supplied, linemen were arriving in Pinar del Río from Santiago to work "as long as is necessary," and public health brigades were ensuring salutary conditions. Building materials were being distributed to those who needed repairs to their homes. The energy revolution has introduced technologies that have resulted in speeding up the restoration of electricity after damage to the grid. The presidents of the Defense Councils of Pinar del Río and Isla de la Juventud, both women, were received in the various communities they visited, with cheerful demonstrations of confidence in them and the Revolutionary government.

    A badly damaged hospital in one of the communities in Pinar del Río was the place of birth of a boy during the hurricane. He was named Gustavo for the hurricane and David for the Cuban people's spirit of fighting against great odds.

    That fighting spirit must also be imbued with the patience of Sisyphus, because the unwanted meteorological phenomenon stubbornly recurs. A previous CNC donation went precisely to one of the again affected Pinar del Río communities to provide roofs for some 200 houses. We hope that some of these roofs have survived. The fighting spirit must also be buttressed by financial resources.

    Even though Cuba has not requested aid from us, the friends of Cuba, including members of the Canadian Network on Cuba, will want, as they usually do, to do everything possible to help. Cuba has been helping other countries for years; now let us help them.

    Help by signing a petition to the Canadian Federal government to send Hurricane Aid to Cuba. Go to the website for Canadians: www.gopetition.co.uk/petitions/hurricane-aid-for-cuba.html Please pass the info on; also write your MP.

    With your help - in view of the great expense - we should imaginatively seek out new additional sources of funds - from different levels of government, farmer's associations, trade unions, cultural groups - and in general widen the circle of the friends of Cuba. We should work to include people who are indignant at injustice, those who understand, for example, that one of the main reasons why the Bush administration let some of its citizens die rather than accept Cuban medical help at the time of Katrina was because they wanted no easing of their brutal 'embargo', and even when Cuba is faced with terrible natural disasters. Let us approach Canadians with some of the information here and, as José Martí would do, believe in their goodness.

    The need for funds to recover from Hurricane Gustav and Ike is urgent. We aim to forward to Cuba an initial contribution of $100,000 as soon as possible. We hope that in this hour of Cuba's need, you will find it possible to respond in a spirit that reflects the generosity and determination of the Cuban people.

    One hundred per cent of your donation will go to Cuba either directly or in obtaining and shipping requested materials to help in the re-construction. The charitable organization "Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund" (Registered Canadian charitable organization # 88876 9197) is working with us to collect donations for Cuba Hurricane Relief and Re-Construction from concerned Canadians. Either way, you will receive a charitable tax receipt:

    There are two ways to send in donations.

    1) Send your cheque made payable to the "Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund." Then write on the memo line of the cheque "For Cuba Hurricane Relief." Also include your name, address if it is not already on the cheque so a tax receipt can be issued (or state that a tax receipt is not needed). Mail to: Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund Attn: S. Skup, Treasurer, 56 Riverwood Terrace, Bolton, Ontario, L7E 1S4 (tel: 905.951.8499 sharon@ccfatoronto.ca) If you do not want any receipt, you also can go to any TD Canada Trust branch and deposit money to the account of the Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund: (Institution # 004; Transit # 03212) Branch # 321 Acct# 5001074.

    2) Make out your cheque (or cash) to your local Cuba friendship/solidarity committee with your name, address, clearly stating "For Cuba Hurricane Relief." The local committee will send one cheque - together with a list of the names, addresses, and the amount of the donation of the individual donors - to the Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund. Tax receipts will then be issued to individual donors (unless stated as not needed). A list of provincial groups is available on the CNC website.

    Yours in solidarity,
    Keith Ellis,
    Chair Cuba Hurricane Fund Committee, Canadian Network on Cuba

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