Hurricanes at the Cuban Island

The most powerful things that shape history are what cannot be controlled. The consistent barrage of hurricanes that hit this island drastically altered Cuban history. That is why the author of Winds of Change, Louis A. Perez, called these hurricanes that hit the island “flash points”. He called them flash points because they were these sudden flashes in time that would change the direction that the island was headed from that point on. After these flash points, the island had to begin a new period in time that was focused around rebuilding what was destroyed and trying to survive through the loss of their livelihood, which mainly consisted of agriculture. Perez uses hurricanes as a “flash point” to examine Cuban history from multiple angles such as their agriculture, the aftermath and how it affects the Cuban citizens directly, and how the hurricanes evolved the Cuban national identity. Perez uses personal journals, diaries, and memoirs to recount what happened during these hurricanes and how they affected Cuba.

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On the surface, it seems that hurricanes had only destructive properties to them. However, statistics show that in the long run, hurricanes reprioritized the agricultural exports to become more profitable. After the major hurricanes of 1844 and 1846 coffee exports declined because tobacco and sugar plantations were more profitable. Perez states, “the 2,067 operating in 1827 were reduced to 1,670 in 1864 and to less than 1,220 in 1852. By 1862 only 782 cafetales were functioning– a loss of nearly 50 percent of the total number of coffee estates” (89). Perez makes it clear throughout the book that the coffee prices around the world drastically drop; however, the Cuban plantations redirect their effort to support the rising sugar prices. Although sugar is the main effort, tobacco is another crop Cubans took towards as well as other agricultural ventures. It is fairly easy to see that hurricanes had a direct impact on the Cuban economy, specifically, their agriculture.

Hurricanes don’t discriminate based on race or wealth; they affect those that are susceptible to them. The hurricanes that hit Cuba affected those who were not prepared for them, and most often specifically those who could not afford to prepare for them. These hurricanes hit the barrios of Extremaduro especially hard because this was the low-income area. Perez states, “especially the extemaduro communities, where tens of thousand of families had taken up residence, many in crowded, fragile dwellings, in barrios that had expanded without plan or policy but rather in response to need, often spontaneously” (112). Therefore, much of the destruction that was recorded came from this area due to the fragility of the houses. Yet, there were a few instances of the wealthier houses being destroyed. Perez records an instance of a wealthier house being torn apart from one of the hurricanes, specifically one of the balconies being brought down. The slaves were also destroyed by these hurricanes. Slave owners did not provide solid housing for their slaves and the hurricanes therefore ripped apart their dwelling places. Perez makes it clear that the hurricanes affected those that were vulnerable and unprepared for the hurricanes.

Hurricanes throughout Cuban history prove that the people of Cuba have resilience. Time and time again Cubans have been hit with hurricanes that destroy their homes, livelihood, and sometimes families. Every time though, they bounce back and adjust to the new circumstances showing that they as a people are resilient. The perfect example of this is the adjustment from cafetales to sugar plantations as previously discussed. Perez states, “the coffee-culture…is fast declining in Cuba. Year by year…these lovely gardens and groves are cleared, and transformed, as far as the nature of the ground will admit, into a vast monotony of sun-steeped cane-fields. For the can loves sun, not shade” (94). These farmers have lost their homes, their crop, and potentially part of their families. However, they bounce back and adjust to meet the needs of their survival by becoming sugar plantations in response to the rising sugar prices. This shows that Perez is portraying their national identity is one of adjustment and resilience. He is showing that Cubans during that time period related because they all did what it took to survive.

The survivors of hurricanes always share similarities and differences. For example, the survivors of hurricane Katrina share resemblance with the Cuban national identity from the 19th century. The survivors of hurricane Katrina are resilient and open to adjustment. They realize that things aren’t going to be the same after the hurricane and therefore require adjustment. They sometime have to find different living arrangements and new jobs like the Cubans had to, however they are still different at the same time. Because the hurricane happened in 2005 and in the US, things were quite different. As the 200 or so years have passed, things have changed quite a bit. Technologies, governments, and social systems have set up these two types of survivors as different types of people. Emma West said, “Let me tell you this. I’m going to tell you this joke that my son come up with. When the girls heard about the storm, they was all upset. My son said, ‘If she makes it out of there, she’ll survive because she’s ghetto.’ That’s it.” (“West, Emma.(795).doc,” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed November 4, 2015, People during hurricane Katrina had to worry about flooding from the levy, power outages, and other modern obstacles that the Cubans didn’t face. But as you can see from Emma, regardless the obstacle, she was willing to power through it and survive. Therefore, although survivors of hurricanes in Cuba throughout the 19th century can be compared in attributes, they do differ in many aspects due to the difference in time.

10 September 2019

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