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Baracoa is what travel books call a "quaint historical town". Historical it is indeed. Baracoa was the first settlement here, founded as long ago as 1512 near the Eastern tip of Cuba. Quaint it isn't at all, though, coming close to a slum, admittedly in the midst of a lush tropical jungle with gorgeous views of the table mountain and the bay. Casting a melancholic glance over the calm waters, some days after the Haitian nightmare, one couldn't help pondering: what if a similar earthquake struck here, no more than 40 miles away from Port-au-Prince? Or a much stronger one, like the one that just now hit Chile? How would this poor place fare?

The car's the star in Cuba: If it's broken, you have to fix it, even though it's illegal to do so (AFP/Getty Images) 

Chile was lucky in that its epicentre was not in densely populated areas, which explains why the death toll was relatively low. But there is more to Chile's better fate than pure chance. Chile today is a stable and modern country with a functioning government. It has more solid buildings than easily crumbling shacks, and its average per capita income is the highest in Latin America. The situation may be out of hand for a while, but anarchy isn't around the corner. Haiti, the least developed nation in the Americas, is quite different. Not only has government become entirely dysfunctional, even the most elementary notions of human civilisation seem to have dissolved after the catastrophe. Brutal survival instincts were unleashed. The shocking violence was a consequence of a long record of kleptocratic dictatorships, social chaos and poverty, all eroding morality. In all respects, Haiti is a failed state. 

What about Cuba, then? Frankly, Cuba would fare even worse in the case of a severe earthquake. It would undoubtedly lapse back into another Hobbesian "state of nature", where the life of man "is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short". Right now, the helpless Cuban population is stuck in the choking hands of their socialist Leviathan named Castro (Fidel or Rául, it makes no difference). People are unfree and miserable, and they are painfully aware of it. Government is arbitrary. Human rights don't count, as the recent death after a hunger strike of imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo demonstrated. In the speculative case that a natural catastrophe occurred here, too fast for the vigilant authorities to react, the derelict homes would crumble no slower than in Haiti, killing thousands of people. And that first catastrophe would imply a second one: it would push society to its tipping point. We would witness anarchy and violence of the most venomous kind. It would be the final step in an ongoing tragedy: the euthanasia of Cuban society. 

Life is already "nasty and brutish" here. Cuba is decaying at a scandalous pace, physically and morally. The social capital of civil values and mutual trust has evaporated and hatred is taking hold. It has become normal to cheat, trick, lie and steal — from each other and from the government. Neighbours, friends and family spy on, blackmail and denounce each other. Solidarity and civil courage have fallen into oblivion. No one dares to move when two men beat up a peaceful drunk in the crowded Parque Cespedes in Santiago. There is a good reason for this inaction: one attacker is a police officer, the other one probably from the Comité de Defensa de la Revolución, a neighbourhood control cell, or the secret police. The victim is left on the ground, crying. This artificial, horrifying edifice of "public order" insured by terror would break down should a natural catastrophe incapacitate the state. As well as scrambling for survival, Cubans would begin settling accounts with each other. In the ensuing abyss of violence, as well as being "solitary, poor, nasty and brutish", Cuban lives would also become short.

A decade ago, people were already critical and rebellious, but they still had some admirable energy, charisma and curiosity. That spirit has evaporated, gone with the unsuccessful years that have passed, gone with the hopes of betterment. Cubans look as grey, exhausted and unhappy as the Czechs did at the end of the Eighties: no smiles, no politeness, either towards strangers or fellow Cubans. There aren't even any spontaneous concerts in the streets any more. Everything that is public now means the State, means dollars and has become unaffordable. The government has crowded out most private undertakings. Every interaction with locals now comes in commercial terms. With an empty expression on their faces, people look out for full wallets. The only escape from being approached is a discourtesy one has to force upon oneself. "Where do you come from?" is the standard opening to a conversation in order to sell something beyond value or to beg for a gift. How can one tell the difference? If the person says, "I don't want money from you", the reverse is true. Far from taming greed, socialism has turned Cuba into a desperately materialistic society. 

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