HAVANA, Sept 26 (Reuters) -- Cuban authorities said Saturday Hurricane
Georges had caused five deaths and widespread damage, but President
Fidel Castro vowed the communist-ruled island would be strong in the face
of both future hurricanes and "ideological winds."
He and other Cuban officials were clearly pleased that Cuba had escaped
more serious loss of life during Georges' two-day trek across the island,
especially in comparison with other parts of the Caribbean, where it killed
more than 280 people.
Opening a national meeting of Cuba's neighbourhood block committees on
Friday night, Castro said Cuba's organized and unified response to the
hurricane showed the strength of its one-party political system.
Cuba was ready to resist both hurricanes and what he called "ideological
winds, the winds of corruption with which imperialism seeks to damage the
Revolution," the 72-year-old leader told delegates to a Congress of Cuba's
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in Havana.
"Ideas cannot be carried away, cannot be blown down by winds," Castro
said, drawing a parallel between the hurricane and foreign pressure,
especially from the United States, for political change on the island.
Officials said the evacuation of more than half a million people, including
several thousand foreign tourists, helped prevent serious loss of life in Cuba
during the hurricane.
"With the same speed with which we can evacuate thousands of people, we
can also arm thousands of combatants," Castro said, referring to his
country's state of military readiness in case of attack.
Civil Defense officials reported a total of five deaths as a result of
three through electrocution by exposed or downed power lines and two
caused by drowning in floodwaters.
The most serious impact of the hurricane was likely to be economic.
Preliminary reports from eastern and central provinces hit by the hurricane
pointed to extensive damage to homes, power lines, infrastructure, transport
routes and food and export crops, especially bananas, coffee and sugar
The island can ill afford such losses at a time when it is still struggling
achieve economic recovery after several years of deep recession triggered
by the collapse of the former Soviet bloc and worsened by a continuing U.S.
Plantations of bananas, an important food staple in Cuba, were the worst
by the hurricane. The country's biggest fruit banana plantation, La Cuba in
central Ciego de Avila province, reported potential losses of up to 70
The island's hard currency coffee crop, though small by world standards,
was also badly affected. In the main growing area in eastern Cuba, coffee
bushes were broken by winds and falling trees and their ripening berries
blown to the ground.
Many provinces reported areas of sugar cane either flooded or badly blown
about by the hurricane. Efforts were under way to drain the floodwaters to
prevent damage to the growing sugar crop, traditionally Cuba's most
The effects of the hurricane threatened to further hamper Cuba's already
struggling sugar industry, which this year recorded its lowest harvest in some
50 years, of around 3.2 million tons, or even less, according to some
Wind damage to the roofs of sugar mills was also reported.
But the hurricane did bring one benefit in the form of much-needed rainfall
for Cuba's eastern provinces, which had been suffering one of the worst
droughts in recent history.
The United Nations World Food Program had appealed to the international
community on September 1 for contributions for a $27 million emergency
food aid operation for the drought-hit areas.
Cuban authorities said the heavy rain dumped by Georges had filled
reservoirs, watered parched fields and also improved grazing conditions for
Hotels and tourist installations on the island generally appeared to have
escaped with only minor damage.
Copyright 1998 Reuters.