NPR Honors 'Highly Organized' Cuba's Avoidance of Hurricane Deaths

On Tuesday morning, National Public Radio Morning Edition anchor Renee Montagne talked with BBC reporter Michael Voss about Cuba’s record of saving its people from hurricane deaths. I heard Montagne worry with Voss about the loss of "UNESCO World Heritage Sites" on the island, and I heard Voss talk about how many more die in Haiti because their society lacks the "order" in Cuba, where people listen to their government and are not afraid of their property being stolen.

So when I went to the NPR website to find the audio, that’s not what I found. It’s also not what I found in Nexis (which accepts transcripts from the networks). What remained was still a tribute to Cuba’s communist care, but with some of the ardor taken out. This version may have aired somewhere else in the morning, but it’s not what I heard on the car radio:

MONTAGNE: Now, Cuba has reported its first deaths in the storm, and it's really a handful of people. It's really - it's just four people so far. Apparently, no fatalities during Hurricane Gustav, which struck Cuba as a category four hurricane. How does Cuba manage to do so well in these situations?

Mr. VOSS: I think the Communist authorities here pride themselves in testing hurricane preparedness very seriously indeed. Fidel Castro made it one of his priorities very early on in the revolution. There was a bad hurricane, a lot of Cubans died. And at that point he said, you know, this is one of the ways that the state can show that it cares. And ever since then they have taken it seriously. They plan well in advance every year before the hurricane season strikes. They have dress rehearsals. Every single province and town is told to work out who is most at risk, where people would be moved to, where the shelters are, what they do about transport, et cetera.

And then you've got the army and civil defense standing by to move in afterwards. So they take it very seriously. However, the difficulty with this storm's been that it's spent so long over Cuba. I mean, we're talking more than a day working its way up the entire length of the island and stretching the emergency services to the limit. And I'm still trying to work out, but my understanding is that actually these are the first hurricane-related deaths for several years, if not more than a decade.

A similar storyline unfolded Monday on the NPR program Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She interviewed Voss and NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten:

MARTIN: And Tom, you had a final thought, but I also wanted to ask as part of that if - you know, in this country, response to disasters becomes a referendum on leadership, as we've seen with President Bush. The Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina has been a significant part of his low approval ratings along with, of course, other factors like the war in Iraq and other things in the economy. Is it possible here that the same could happen if the Cuban government is not deemed to have made an appropriate response to these back-to-back disasters? Could that have some impact on the political system there?

GJELTEN: Well, one thing, Michel, is that the Cuban government is very, very good at this. And it's one of the - displays one of the advantages of being a totalitarian system. You know, because the Cuban power structure authority's government is so unified and centralized, they can go into a village, into a town, and they can basically evacuate everybody in a highly organized way. So that's why you don't see fatalities in Cuba the way you would in other - that you have in other Caribbean countries, because they are able to carry out a very systematic evacuation.

Do they realize this might sound as if they are trying to imply that it's unfortunate we didn't have a totalitarian U.S. government during Katrina? 

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