Cuba, which is holding a high-stakes, islandwide referendum on gay marriage and other family rights on Sunday, has downplayed preparations as Tropical Storm Ian approaches, even as projections for the storm have it hitting the western tip of the island as a major Category 3 hurricane Monday night into Tuesday.

On its morning advisory, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Ian will intensify rapidly on Sunday and reach major hurricane strength by late Monday when it will reach the island. The center forecasts that western Cuba is at increased risk of facing “significant wind and storm surge impacts.”

Although the eye of the storm will likely pass to the west of Havana itself, the Cuban capital will be on the eastern, or “dirty” side of the storm and will likely experience hurricane-force winds and heavy rains. Havana is in a a low-lying coastal area and is at significant risk of flooding if hit by torrential rain or storm surges.

As of the latest advisory, the eye of Ian will cross Cuba at its western tip, in Pinar del Rio province, in a thinly populated area.

On Sunday morning, Cuba’s Civil Defense authorities issued a hurricane warning advisory for the provinces of Isle of Youth, Pinar del Río and Artemisa, but no government-led evacuations have been announced. Havana, Mayabeque and Matanzas provinces are under a tropical storm warning.

During a government meeting on Saturday to discuss storm preparations, Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel urged officials to take measures to prevent the loss of life.


The remnants of hurricane Agatha left three dead in Cuba in June, and another 10 people died when powerful hurricane Irma battered the island in 2017. Cuban authorities blamed the deaths on the population’s failure to prepare for the storms.

“The effort made to preserve the lives of our people is hampered by lack of discipline,” Díaz-Canel said at Saturday’s meeting, according to Cuba’s Communist Party daily Granma. “These are times when we have to call for more social discipline, more responsibility.”

But on Sunday morning, most state media outlets were focusing on the ongoing referendum vote. Granma’s main homepage story portrayed a relaxed Díaz-Canel, wearing Nike sneakers and a Puma T-shirt, casting his vote. Raúl Castro, the 91-year old retired general who is still the island’s ultimate authority, also voted on Sunday morning, wearing his military uniform.

Speaking to journalists afterward, Díaz-Canel said he did not expect the new family-law code to be approved “unanimously.”

The referendum that would allow gay marriage and surrogacy pregnancies among other things is being held after strong opposition voiced by religious groups and activists reluctant to participate in what the government has also portrayed as a vote in support of socialism.

“I urge you to vote with your heart,” Díaz-Canel said during a meeting last week with LGBTQI activists and other supporters of the new family code. “A Yes vote is a Yes to unity, a Yes to the Revolution, to socialism, and it is to say Yes for Cuba!”