HAVANA, May 17 You can still see the stilts rising from the waves: “Cyclone Kate swept away all these wooden houses that were on the water,” says Amado, a resident of Isabela de Sagua, a Cuban village threatened by the sea. but refuses to disappear.
Amado Arce, a 69-year-old retired from the honey industry, has lived in one of these houses built facing the north coast of the island since the founding in 1843 of the village, nicknamed “the Venice of Cuba”.
Everything was swept away by Kate in 1985, and even today the sea threatens.
Amado is one of some 3,000 proud locals who refuse to leave as authorities have been offering since 2017 to move them to Isabela Nueva, 11 kilometers further inland.
From the water, emerges the structure of what was the local customs office.
“It had been built in wood, on two floors, then renovated in bricks”, recalls Amado. In the 20th century, the village had become a dynamic port, from where boats loaded with sugar, honey and alcohol left.
Between the rustic houses, whose walls were painted in bright colors, canals were built. There was no road, only a train line to the port. The villagers had become accustomed to traveling in canoes.
But Isabela de Sagua lost its momentum when the port closed in the 1990s. Today its inhabitants live off fishing and remittances from their families living abroad.
“The closing of the port was due to a thousand reasons”, says Amado, who cites the main one: “the socialist camp collapsed” with the fall of the USSR, but “80% of Cuba’s trade depended on it”.
” Lost everything “
Climate change did the rest: in September 2017, Hurricane Irma, category 5, hit the village with full force.
“The cyclone hit for 16 hours, I had water until then,” said, putting his hand on his chest, Rafael Morales, 61, chef of a restaurant with a terrace on the sea.
“I lost everything,” he adds, facing the establishment which had to be rebuilt.
Elias Neri, under the control of his fishing boat “Contratiempo” (mishap), lived 50 of his 84 years in his seaside house.
“How do you think I’m going to leave” to Isabela Nueva, “bury myself there? It’s not Isabela or Sagua, it’s pasture there,” he scowled.
“I’m not leaving here, it’s my house” and “if I drown, I’ll drown here”, he assures alongside his wife Lazara, who nods in approval.
Half of the population has already abandoned this idyllic corner of the Cuban coast, in the province of Villa Clara and facing a series of islets that make it even closer to Florida. Many of them left in makeshift boats.
For decades, residents of other provinces have come from elsewhere to throw themselves into the sea and try to join the American Eldorado.
Elias and Lazara saw many of them not far from their house. “Five days ago, they intercepted 16 near here,” says Elias.