These modest homes are all plastic, made in Venezuela. And they are strong enough to withstand even the force of a Caribbean hurricane:
Much destruction, countless uprooted trees and downed power lines. This remains the predominant scene in every corner of Santiago de Cuba on Monday. But it is accompanied by swarms of men and women who, using modern means or simple machetes and brooms, are transforming the images of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation from four days ago before our very eyes.
The president of Cuba, Raúl Castro, toured the streets of Cuba’s second-largest city, and nearby zones of renown such as Siboney and El Caney. The spirit of Santiago’s citizens was as great as the devastation.
Raúl began his tour with an homage to José Martí at his mausoleum in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, which also houses monuments to the fallen of the July 26 uprising, and the internationalist martyrs. There was no major damage at the site, nor was the Martí mausoleum affected.
During a brief stop at a site along the Central Highway, near the exit from Santiago, where a hundred Venezuelan-made “petrocasas” had been erected five years ago, it became evident how little damage these buildings had sustained compared to the devastation wrought by the hurricane on the other homes nearby. It is a sign that the petrocasas are a good option, especially in rural zones.
The Santiago residents of the petrocasas could personally confirm the buildings’ resistance to strong winds.
“Listen, I thought they wouldn’t hold out, but there they are — they’re super-strong!” said Olvedis Ramos, who was surprised by the cyclone while he was visiting local relatives.
“I thought Sandy would be stronger than the petrocasas, but she was no match for them.”
In a characteristic gesture of solidarity, the inhabitants of the petrocasas took in many neighbors who were at risk. None of the Venezuelan-built homes suffered any damage.
Said Raúl Castro about the passing of Sandy over the province, “It’s been hard, but Santiago is Santiago. It has resisted gales and wars of every kind, and it will overcome this one too. We must resist!”
A smattering of applause was the response.
The idea of the petrocasas was conceived a few years ago in Venezuela, as a solution to the housing problems there. Many Venezuelans, especially in urban areas, live in precarious shantytowns on flood-prone hillsides. They need inexpensive but durable materials to build their houses so the latter don’t rot away in the heat and rain of that tropical land, as so many of the rickety improvised hillside ranchos do. And since petroleum is abundant and cheap, hard plastic became an obvious choice. Many former slum dwellers now live in safe, dignified petrocasas, which are made from PVC walls filled with cement.
Now Venezuela is helping out Cuba (which supplied doctors and literacy teachers to those same slums) by replacing poor families’ bohíos (shacks) with petrocasas, among other things. And since Cuba was recently found to possess some vast offshore oil deposits, which the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA (builder of the petrocasa!), will soon help develop, it’s just a matter of time before petrocasas become a regular feature of the Cuban landscape. They will play a considerable part, too, in Cuba’s industrial revamp and modernization, and will provide plenty of good jobs.
Just more proof that when Cuba comes in from the cold, it won’t be because the US lifted that odious blockade with which they attempted to starve the island into submission, nor will capitalists play the role of the heroic liberator; it will be with the help of fellow Latin Americans, most prominently the oil-rich (and oil-wise) Bolivarian people of Venezuela.
And just more proof that human solidarity is stronger than any hurricane.