Cuba, Irma, and ongoing exceptionalism in the Caribbean

Cuba, Irma, and ongoing exceptionalism in the Caribbean

BY ROBERT COATES

In this post I review disaster risk/reduction in Cuba, particularly in light of the devastating 2017 hurricane season. The year after Irma is, for a number of reasons, an appropriate time to revisit the practices, meanings, and politics of disaster risk in this most interesting of cases. While Puerto Rico is negotiating temporary housing, an insufficient budget for critical services, and a disruptive political dispute over the post-disaster privatisation of education, the signs from Cuba are of significant recovery and business-as-usual as it enters the next hurricane season. Further intrigue is added by the fact that Raúl Castro stepped down as Cuban leader in April 2018, ending 59 years of Castro rule. The recent thaw in relations with the US under the Obama administration—and only partially refrozen by Trump—leads us to think through what the future might hold for disaster risk in a state widely considered to be in a process of opening to global influences and markets. I should add that I have as my primary target here an understanding of disaster risk rather than political ideology. Yet, as I will show, viewing the two separately proves impossible, given the clear links between societal form and top-down planning. Viewing them in tandem helps us to consider the mutually reinforcing connections between ideology, political-institutional legitimacy, and the triumph of societal organisation over not-so-natural disasters. As Cuba moves into the post-Castro era, its approach to hurricane exposure remains emphatically exceptional to what’s become a sad Caribbean norm of destitution, debt, blame shifting, and global political ineptness. Clues in dealing with the presence of natural hazards going forward must surely be found in independent analysis, as far as is possible free from twentieth century ideological conjecture.

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Entering the Contact Zone? Between Colonialism, Neoliberal Resilience and the Possibility of Emancipatory Politics in Puerto Rico’s Post-Maria

Entering the Contact Zone? Between Colonialism, Neoliberal Resilience and the Possibility of Emancipatory Politics in  Puerto Rico’s Post-Maria

By César J. Pérez-Lizasuain

Undoubtedly, the colonial and neoliberal regime in Puerto Rico precedes the scourge of Hurricane Maria on September 20, 2017. Therefore, when evaluating the “responses” that followed this atmospheric disaster, it is important to consider that the political, legal and economic base for such “answers” have been articulated from a long-standing colonial-neoliberal complex in the island. In this article, the author identifies this complex with what he calls the degenerative evolution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, established in 1952.

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The Plantation’s role in enhancing hurricane vulnerability in the nineteenth-century British Caribbean

The Plantation’s role in enhancing hurricane vulnerability in the nineteenth-century British Caribbean

By Oscar Webber

Hurricanes are the hazard most synonymous with the Caribbean and have, consequently, received the most attention from historians. Yet, they have tended to be considered exogenous phenomena. There has been little attention paid to the role endogenous factors have played in exacerbating the potential for loss from hurricane impacts. Through a comparison of the impacts of the Barbadian hurricane of 1831 and the Dominican hurricane of 1834 this article seeks to advance the existing literature by examining the role the plantation played in exacerbating hurricane vulnerability. In revealing the significantly contrasting amount of damage these islands sustained, this article shows that, at least in this case, the more expansive plantation agriculture of Barbados exposed its habitants to far greater human, economic and environmental losses.

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Introduction to the Special Issue: ‘The Making of Caribbean Not-so-Natural Disasters’

Introduction to the Special Issue: ‘The Making of Caribbean Not-so-Natural Disasters’

By Gibrán Cruz-Martínez, Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia, Janialy Ortiz Camacho & Patria Román-Velazquez

Hurricanes are not a novelty in the Caribbean. However, 2017 left several shocking facts for history books regarding intensity and frequency. Two Category 4 and two Category 5 hurricanes – the strongest category on the Saffir-Simpson scale – hit the Caribbean in a month's-time. Despite the label ‘natural disaster’, colonialism and human-induced factors are behind the high levels of inequality, climate change and incomplete recoveries in the Caribbean region, which increase the region's vulnerability to disaster. This special issue addresses the disaster conditions, responses and consequences not only in Puerto Rico but also in the impacted neighbouring islands of Barbuda and Cuba. We expect this to be the beginning of a number of critical social research examining the Dominica, Haïti, Turks & Caicos, Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, St Kitts & Nevis, St. Martin the Dominican Republic, and the rest of Caribbean countries who encounters natural and not-so-natural disasters.

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