Matthew and Oblivion Join Forces Against La Máquina in Guantanamo / 14ymedio, Yunier Reyes

Outskirts of Baracoa after Hurricane Matthew. (EFE)
Outskirts of Baracoa after Hurricane Matthew. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunier Reyes, Baracoa, 7 October 2016 – “There is not a single roof here that the wind didn’t take,” commented Jorge Luis, a villager of La Máquina, one of the poorest areas of Cuba in the territory of Maisí, Guantanamo. At roughly 900 feet above sea level, the residents of the remote place say that since the passing of Hurricane Matthew the first government aid still hasn’t reached the area.

“We hid in the bathroom of the house,” recalls this farmer who was born in the easternmost point of the island and says he has never having seen anything like what happened during Tuesday night. “Everything was doubled over with the wind and the pressure was so strong that I could hardly swallow my own saliva,” he explains. “It was more than six hours that we couldn’t even move,” he recalls with fear.

The locals have always looked enviously at neighboring Baracoa. “They at least have tourists coming, who leave behind some money, but here nobody passes. Who is going to be interested in seeing this town where there is nothing?” asks Jorge Luis’s eldest son, who helps his father farm. The young man believes that “donations will rain down” on the larger town, but “from there to here is a long way.”

The dangerous stretch of road linking Cajobabo with La Máquina and Punta de Maisí is not passable at the moment for cars, but entire families have dared to make their way along it, struggling to get around the rocks and chunks of concrete and asphalt that now mark the damaged road. They go to nearby villages in search of food, on a walk that must be made in haste.

Jorge Luis made a stretch of the journey on Thursday afternoon with an empty sack over his shoulder. “I have to get some food because we already ran out,” he says. At the home of some of his cousins they gave him some sweet potatoes and a piece of salt pork. “We will be surviving with this until they begin to distribute food,” he says.

“The coffee is very affected,” says the farmer, and telephone communications and electrical service are still not working, but the latter two problems do not seem to worry Jorge Luis very much. “We have always lived with very little. In my house we can only turn on a light bulb occasionally because the voltage has always been very low.”

La Máquina’s first sidewalks were poured last year and “they are already deteriorated because the builders stole some of the materials,” explained the Guantanameran. With Matthew’s rains the whole place was turned into a quagmire only navigable in rubber boots. Children travel on the shoulders of their parents and bicycles can barely advance through the mud.

In Punta Caleta, the site where Matthew touched down on the island, “there’s nothing left even to tie a goat to,” the farmer – who also has relatives in the area – says sarcastically. “Even the trees were uprooted.” The bridges in the region are also seriously damaged, which is preventing the arrival of maintenance brigades and food supplies.

Intense rains have damaged the region and the Rio Seco – Dry River – has belied its name and flooded to the point that the villages in the area are incommunicado. “The rains failed us, but not now, really, not now,” reflects Jorge Luis, as he works his way around the obstacles toward the town of Cajobabo. On both sides of what was once a highway the palms are pressed flat against the ground as if a giant had passed over them.