Cuba is one of the brightest countries and has undergone extremely contradictory political, economic and social development. Although this country has a number of prominent scholars, scientists and analytics, few of them consider the impact of climate on the country’s internal dynamics.
Louis Perez, Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is among them, as his approach to the progress of Cuban economy and society is relatively novel: in “Winds of Change: Hurricanes and the Transformation of Nineteenth-Century Cuba” the writer persuades the reader that hurricanes were a determinative factor of Cuba’s development in terms of internal as well as foreign affairs.
Interestingly, the scholar first compares the growth and progress of the colonial and imperialistic Spanish world in general and them switches to describing the divergences, attributed to Cuba – these differences in reality were caused by several devastating hurricanes of the 1840s (Hall, 2004; Schwartz, 2002). “Perez enhances his study with a wide variety of eyewitness accounts and literary passages” (Hall, 2004, p.
178), for instance, indicating that practically everyone in the country “remembers one hurricane in particular” (Perez, 2001, p. ).
In addition, this statement is valid at mezzolevel, i. e. at the level of territorial community: “Perez explains that almost every city or town in Cuba can tell of one devastating hurricane that caused such destruction that life in the town was never the same again” (Hall, 2004, p. 178). Hurricanes, in Perez’s opinion, are not merely a natural phenomenon or force: for Cubans, they are already a sort of genetic memory, an archetype of huge destructive power, so that hurricanes are close-knit to Cubans’ mentality and wisdom.
For instance, Perez holds that the legends and stories, related to hurricanes, “ are passed from one generation to the next, as something lived and later as something learned” (Perez, 2001, p. 7). For those who have never faced hurricanes, it is hard to comprehend the phenomenon, moreover – it is hard to explain such experiences verbally, but the author tries and narrates from the very beginning: the evolution of the word ‘hurricane’, it meaning and history are also incorporated into the study.
The term ‘hurricane’ originated from the Taino word ‘huracan’, which was common for the Carribean group of Indian languages. “Hurricane winds, whose frequency varies from year to year, reach the Caribbean mostly between August and October. Historically, once the winds and rains of the hurricanes had passed, the local communities were struck by the twin perils of famine and disease. Cuba’s geographic location made her especially prone to hurricane disasters” (Hall, 2004, p. 178).
In addition, the first settlements, established by colonizers, had their own peculiarities, related to the density and structure of population that in reality exaggerated these problems: social inequality and stratification spread poverty, which in turn, resulted in the intensified epidemics. Furthermore, such settlements were normally situated at the confluence of inland rivers and therefore were particularly exposed to the potential dangers of hurricanes (Schwartz, 2002), such as floods.
The first part of the writing is therefore dedicated to outlining and clarifying the decisive role of hurricanes during the period of colonization and European hegemony. Perez utilizes travel records, written two or even three hundred years ago in order to define the meaning of hurricanes. Furthermore, towards the middle of the book, the author explores the economic impact of hurricanes. In this sense, in my opinion, Perez overstresses the notoriety of hurricanes: wars, epidemics and poor coordination of political power are recognized as three main historical factors, conditioning economic poverty.
Furthermore, the scholar explains that the complex of hurricanes of the 1840s resulted in the long-term economic stagnation, yet it touched primarily agriculture, which was a ‘renewable’ area. But it is important to note that the author’s argument is extremely cohesive and profound: for instance, Perez draws clear interrelation between hurricanes and the deterioration of local agriculture that actually was one of the richest sources of income (Schwartz, 2002).
Perez postulates that the calamities of Atlantic hurricanes have been an even greater threat to Cuba’s economic livelihood” (Schwartz, 2002, p. 334), moreover, he wisely notes that hurricanes at that time constituted the most unpredictable economic collapse, as contemporary meteorology was still incapable of forecasting all natural events. In addition, ordinary people were powerless against hurricanes, as it is impossible to stop or redirect them. What made the October hurricanes of 1844 and 1846 so devastating was that they struck just before the coffee harvest. The entire harvests were lost” (Hall, 2004, p. 179). With regard to the fact that Cuban economy and industry were not diversified enough and depended greatly upon coffee and tobacco production, it is possible to imagine the collapses which occurred in each household (ibid).
Towards the end, the author reviews the positive points, brought about by hurricanes, such as the reinforcement of commercial relations between Cuba and the United States and the growth of unity among Cubans, who mobilized and supported one another. The author therefore describes the way hurricanes were shaping Cuban mentality, and the ability of citizens to restore their native land after the natural catastrophes as well as their resistibility and common sense.