Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Question of Ownership / Yoani Sánchez

Question of Ownership / Yoani Sánchez
Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sánchez

A woman, the owner of a recently opened snack bar, responds to the
inquisitive questions of a reporter about her use of the public space.
In the evening, her statements along with many others will be broadcast
in an extensive television report about the invasion of common areas by
the new private businesses. A very controversial topic. On one side are
those spending their own money to build a counter, or to enlarge it to
serve more customers, and along comes a demolition order for having
extended into areas that don't belong to them. On the other side, we
encounter many passageways which, like certain entryways and walkways,
are giving up space to the advance of construction extending from inside
the houses. But it is notable that the penalization of this urban
encroachment is not applied to everyone with the same severity. The
state seems to have a free right-of-way — literally — to invade spaces,
pushing pedestrians out into the streets, or constructing the greatest
atrocities without any accountability to the people who live there.

In the neighborhood where I live, for example, a hotel covering an
entire block rose at an incredible pace. Initially it was planned as a
shelter for the patients of what is called Operation Miracle, but for
about a year, responding to the laws of supply and demand, it has opened
its doors to the public. This institution — without the consent of a
single neighbor — stole a part of the sidewalk of Hidalgo Street. Where
before there was room for us to walk by free from the danger of cars,
the enormous building now has its truck loading area, an ugly ramp where
there are never any vehicles unloading goods.

The damage appears to be irreversible in this case, because unlike the
improvised constructions of individuals, here we're talking about a mass
of concrete which no one could cut a piece out of. People on foot, many
of whom come out of the market and who used to walk along a sidewalk
protected by curbs, feel like it's not even worth it to complain. "It
belongs to the State and you already know…" they tell me when I try to
call for volunteers to protest. And the saddest thing is, they're right.
Not even the incisive reporter who criticizes the expansion of certain
private businesses on prime time news, will prepare a story about this
piece of the city they have taken from us.

12 October 2011

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