Living in a Shelter: The Tragedy of Thousands of Cubans / Lilianne Ruiz
Posted on December 18, 2013
HAVANA, Cuba, December 2013, www.cubanet.org – The poverty in which most
Cubans live — and to which they adapt, thanks to the meticulous
mechanisms of power that 54 years of State terror have imposed — is not
an insurmountable fate. It would be enough for the Cuban government to
respect all human rights, opening the political and economic game, in
order to improve the living conditions of the island's inhabitants.
Misery is aggravated when one has neither a place to live nor economic
resources to rent, build or buy a house. It is estimated that, in the
Central Havana municipality alone, 6,201 families (24,584 people) are
affected by the uninhabitable condition of their dwellings. Of that
number, only 125 families are located in the so-called transit
communities: collective shelters, as they are known in Cuba.
But those figures do not shed light on what it means for a family to
live sheltered. One must cross the threshold of figures in order to see
up close the true face of the tragedy.
The "Collective Shelter" of San Rafael 417 in Central Havana
According to those who live there, the building previously housed a
factory for sanitary napkins (intimates in the Cuban language). Decrepit
posters with some communist slogans are not missing. The hall is divided
into different rooms where the belongings of those who have come to stop
in this site are grouped. What seems to be the bathroom is in fact a
latrine. Nor is there seen anywhere a sink with running water.
Iverlysse Junco is 29 years old. The door of the little room of wooden
planks where she lives with her husband and four children creates a
false illusion of privacy. Everything looks poor and ugly, but it is
impressive to see the white of the diapers that cover the cradle of her
baby born a month ago. She has not neglected her personal appearance in
spite of the fact that she is not expecting anyone; she keeps her
dignity in the cleanliness and order that she maintains in the 4 x 4
meters where they live.
Six years ago they left a tenement in danger of collapse. The room has
not a single window. The first thing that she shows us behind a curtain
is another sliding wooden plank that gives onto the street.
"When we came it was completely closed, but one day I could not endure
any longer the lack of air and I grabbed a saw in order to make that
opening," she says. "The bad thing is that now my husband and I cannot
leave together, because one of us two has to stay in order to make sure
no one enters and takes our things. They came to assess a fine against
me, for nothing less than for altering the facade. But I told the
district delegate that they are very familiar with my situation."
On an improvised kitchen counter is a pair of electric burners where she
does everything: from cooking to boiling the diapers, as is customary
among Cuban mothers who have no way to pay for the luxury of disposable
diapers, which involves a greater cost than a month's salary.
The baby is cold as a consequence of the humidity: she has to hang out
clothes there inside. The water she asks of a neighbor on the block. He
lets them fill the buckets that they then carry to a little tank in the
corner of the room. That limited water has to serve them for washing,
mopping, cooking and bathing in the same room. Part of everyone's
routine every day is to keep the deposit full. But with other needs
there is no arrangement; they have to urinate and defecate in a bucket
dedicated to that purpose and then go out to pour it down the drain in
"Everything is hard here. The most difficult is getting up in the
morning and having to be watching the people to be able to go out to
dispose of the bucket. I cannot not have the bleach for cleaning and the
Her husband works in demolition, which is why she is aware of the
quantity of collapses that occurs, especially when it rains.
"When do I leave here? The collapses are going to continue because
Havana is falling down."
Although Iverlysse and her husband work a lot, they see themselves
reduced to total dependency on the State. In a collectivist system,
which condemns private property and the free market, the hypothetical
solution is that, not with one's own effort, but with collective work,
the Junco family will get a house in which to live.
In practice, society has submitted to state control and planning. The
happiness of the Junco family depends then on their file being
privileged in the eyes of the official, who next December 20 will have
to decide if, among the 900 cases that are presented in the whole of the
Havana province — after prioritizing the "cases" that have spent 20
years sheltered, hoping — theirs qualifies as sufficiently affected by
an extreme situation.
"I have already gone to the Province (Office of Dwellings) and to the
government. Three times I went to Revolution Plaza and seven times I
wrote letters to the State Counsel. On all those occasions the answer
was: You have to wait. There are worse cases than yours. What can be
worse than this?" Iverlysse asks herself.
The statistics about the numbers of sheltered people and those waiting
to become sheltered, were offered by the Municipal Unit of Attention to
the Transit Communities (UMACT) of the Central Havana municipality by a
person who requested anonymity. The number of the 900 cases that will be
presented next December 20 was provided by a housing worker who also
wanted to withhold his name.
December 15, 2013/ By Lilianne Ruiz.
Translated by mlk.
Source: "Living in a Shelter: The Tragedy of Thousands of Cubans /
Lilianne Ruiz | Translating Cuba" -