Learn from Cuba says New Orleans mayor

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 21 October 2009

By Tom Mellen for the Morning Star

Visiting New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin praised Cuba's disaster response system on Tuesday, acknowledging that the islands's socialist authorities "do a much better job than we do."

Mr Nagin, who arrived in Cuba last Friday along with 15 officials from police, fire and port agencies, has met Cuban civil defence authorities and seen presentations on how the whole island mobilises during disasters.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 per cent of New Orleans, killing more than 1,600 people.

Last year, hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma all pounded Cuba, killing seven.

Mr Nagin acknowledged that "one of the biggest weaknesses we had during Katrina is it wasn't clear who was the top authority.

"Here in Cuba you don't have that problem. The government says: 'This is what we're doing, these are the resources we are going to deploy,' and it pretty much happens."

In Cuba, Revolutionary Defence Committees organise communities at neighbourhood level, providing social services as well as helping with evacuations.

"They do a much better job than we do on knowing their citizens at a very, very detailed level, block by block," Mr Nagin declared.

Last week, US President Barack Obama told a New Orleans town hall meeting that, in the days after "that terrible storm struck your shores, all the world bore witness to the fact that the damage from Katrina was not caused just by a disaster of nature but also by a breakdown of government, that government wasn't adequately prepared and we didn't appropriately respond."

Then-president Fidel Castro offered the US medical assistance after Katrina struck, including sending doctors to the area to treat storm victims, but the State Department declined the offer.

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