by Gilles d'Aymery
"Three hundred of the Arkansas National Guard have landed in the city of New Orleans. These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle-tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets. They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will."
—Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco (Dem)
(Swans - September 26, 2005) Just about one year ago, in September 2004, Cuba was hit by a horrendous category 5 hurricane (Ivan), more powerful than Katrina, with winds topping 160 mph. Wide swaths of the island were devastated. Some 20,000 houses and buildings were wiped out. It was a natural disaster of catastrophic proportion. How many lives were lost? None. How many animals were lost? Very few. Humans and animals evacuated in an orderly fashion to higher grounds, to houses of friends, relatives, or neighbors, long predetermined. In Cuba, people know in advance where they are supposed to go in case of an emergency. Not only animals are evacuated but basic appliances such as refrigerators and TVs so as to minimize losses as well as the risks of potential looting -- yes, in dire circumstances we are all subject to the temptation, whether out of necessity or whatever lower instincts kick in time of duress.
Contrast this with the situation in Louisiana, especially in New Orleans -- the so-called "Big Easy" -- Mississippi, and Alabama, when Katrina hit. The (CNN) images that troubled me most, beside the floating bodies and the hordes of begging humanity, were those of the rescue of a man on a roof. He was standing there with his dog, the water right up to the edge of the roof. A small boat approached; the rescuers -- darn good people, doing as much as they could -- helped the man jump on the small boat; then the boat began backing up, leaving the dog behind, stranded on the roof. They left the dog behind...
They abandoned the dog.
What does this contrast tell us about the respective societies?
Look at the evacuation in Texas and Western Louisiana as Rita, thankfully greatly diminished in its destructive power, moved on inexorably toward the US shores. Look at the chaos, people told to leave, to get shelter somewhere, anywhere. Look at people getting in their vehicles and heading into a gridlock on freeways and highways that are routinely over-crowded in normal circumstances. Look at the people stuck in their vehicles -- aka, "shelters" -- with quickly no gasoline available, people stuck on the roads, their gas tank empty. "We'll get through this," said the republican Governor of Texas. "Give a prayer for Texas," he concluded.
Give a prayer was the immediate response to Katrina. A day of prayer was ordered by the Louisiana governor. Let us pray! Where's the gas, where's the water, where's the food, where's help? Let the country pray.
A prayer will do. In the aftermath of Katrina, once Mr. Bush had ended his golf outing and, the next day, his fundraising and red-white-blue pep talk in San Diego, FEMA informed the country that we should all pitch in. Where? In faith-based organizations... Give to god, and god will give you back -- a free-market, religious, private paradigm that has taken over the US of A.
In Cuba -- a much-reviled country, the seat of tyranny, we are told -- they save people and animals and appliances. In America, we pray...and make money and defend property. Oh, yes, property...
The first responders to the Katrina aftermath were the Coast Guard, the National Guard (whichever was not in Iraq), and the overwhelmed locals. For the most part, they behaved like humans are supposedly thought to behave. They took care, as well, or poorly, as they could, of the poor souls left behind. To look at those guys and their helicopters going up and down from one roof to the other was a fair reminder of the goodness and the courage of the people. There, down in the worst of the worse, most responded with humanness, indeed heroism...
Not the system, though... Before the faith-based organizations, the Red Cross, the local-state-federal "authorities" would kick in, the mercenaries had moved in. Jeremy Scahill, a correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!, reports in "Blackwater Down" (The Nation, September 21, 2005) how private security companies had moved into The Big Easy. Private mercenaries deputized by the Louisiana governor -- let me repeat this, private mercenaries deputized by the Louisiana governor -- contracted by FEMA -- let me repeat this, contracted by FEMA -- were shooting their way around. Not only do we, as a country, privatize violence (like the prison system), we shoot to kill. Check the "Democratic" governor's quote at the top of this sorry piece. Jeremy Scahill tells the story about a guy from BATS (Bodyguard and Tactical Security) shooting at whatever "black gangbangers." "After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped. That was it. Enough said."
According to Scahill, "mercenaries from companies like DynCorp, Intercon, American Security Group, Blackhawk, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International (ISI) are fanning out to guard private businesses and homes, as well as government projects and institutions. Within two weeks of the hurricane, the number of private security companies registered in Louisiana jumped from 185 to 235."
In September 2004, "over two and a quarter million people were evacuated before Hurricane Ivan" by the Cuban Civil Defense System. That's 20 percent of the entire Cuban population. Again, not one single human life was lost. (source Prensa Latina, (September 21, 2005).
Following Katrina, the Cuban government offered to send 1,500 doctors and nurses, each with a backpack filled with emergency medical supplies. Four hundred were sitting on a tarmac ready to fly to Louisiana. Cuba is known the world over for her preparedness and efficient preventive response to the dangers of hurricanes. Her medical respondents are experts in the field. The US government did not bother to respond to that generous offer.
"I began by asking Ricardo Alarcon how Cuba deals with hurricanes," said Amy Goodman in her interview of the President of the Cuban National Assembly on September 20, 2005 (broadcast the next day). Alarcon answered:
Well, it's a matter of prevention, of organization. The community of civil defense. In the final analysis, it has to do a lot with the concept of a society. I don't want to join what they call here "the blame game." In a way, it's difficult to be fair, because what is to be blamed I think, is a system. It's more than individuals.
Prevention, organization and logistics (buses to evacuate residents without cars, storage of first-aid supplies, instead of lack of gas along the Texas highways)...social versus private answers...reality versus prayers...humanitarian response versus private, for-profit response; and you get zero deaths versus 1,000-plus dead (and counting), over 2,000 children separated from their families, hundred of thousands homeless, and another Ground Zero. What is it that you are missing here? Can't you see the difference?
In Cuba, they prevent with a civil defense and trained medical professionals. In America, we only do preventive wars and respond to natural disasters by sending mercenaries and national guards with orders to shoot to kill; and the first "reconstruction" contract was granted to....Halliburton!
You cannot create a proper evacuation program after the hurricane is affecting you. You have to have that in the society, but for that, you have to change the priorities. You have to change the values in which the society is based. You have to spend resources, money, on that.
The values on which America is based were on display loud and clear, for the whole world to watch, in New Orleans. Isn't it about time we learn from Cuba before the entire country mirrors this horror and drowns literally and figuratively in an ocean of greed, racism, and poverty? People before profits; people before profits; people before profits; PEOPLE!!!
When will the people awaken?