Monday, November 23, 2015

The Shipwreck of Havana

The Shipwreck of Havana / Ivan Garcia
Posted on November 22, 2015

Ivan Garcia, 19 November 2015 — One hour before noon, the bus stops on
Calzada 10 de Octubre are flooded with irritated people who want to
transfer to other neighborhoods in the capital.

Hundreds of old cars reconverted into collective taxis full of
passengers roll in the direction of Vedado or Centro Habana. The autumn
heat and sense of urgency cause those waiting to despair.

Public transport continues to be a popular subject in a magical and
flirtatious city, which, in spite of its grime and ruins, will be 496
years old on November 16.

Orestes, a bus inspector, receives a spout of critical resentment from
citizens who are disgusted with the precarious urban transport.

"I'm the one who has to take the ass-kicking. The directors travel in
cars. But I'm on the street having to put up with people's complaints.
The worst part isn't the poor management of the transport, it's that you
can't see a short- or long-term solution," he says.

In a city of two and a half million people, where only one percent own a
private auto, there is no Metro and the suburban trains barely function,
public bus service is vitally important.

Yoel, an employ of the sector, says that "the demand is double the
number of passengers transported every day. The ideal would be to have
an allotment of 1,700 to 2,000 buses. But there are barely 670 in
circulation. There is a master plan out to 2020 to improve service, but
I don't think it will solve very much. In addition to the deficit in
buses, there is the problem of the poor state of the streets and
avenues, which cause breakdowns in the city bus service. And the
vandalism of Havanans who shred the buses, destroy the seats or break
the windows with stones. Ninety-eight buses were out of service because
of acts of vandalism."

Traveling at rush hour on a bus in the capital is an Indiana Jones
adventure. Fights, pickpockets and deranged sexual advances. People with
their nerves on the point of exploding at the least touch.

Some day they'll have to erect a monument to the old cars that serve as
taxis in the city. For the average worker, making a round trip by taxi
costs one day's wages.

But the cyclical crisis of urban transport has converted the taxis into
a remedy. They carry 200,000 people daily, although not always under
good conditions. Of the more than 12,000 private cars for rent in
Havana, half of them don't have the required technical specifications.

"The owners put them to work even without painting them or covering the
roof. With what they earn they improve them," says Renán, who owns an
old 1955 Ford.

And yes, they all have disk players that they keep on high volume, which
assault the passengers with timba or reggaeton music.

But the talkative Cubanos convert them into a permanent chronicle and a
rostrum where people unload their disappointment at the state of things
and the appalling government management.

Transportation is only one among many problems suffered by Havanans. The
list of things that cause stress is long, and solutions are nowhere to
be seen. There is a clamorous need for housing.

Just ask Zaida. She's 23 years old and lives in a state hostel in the
department of Miraflores, at the south of the city. "My house fell down
after a hurricane. I lost count of the letters and futile steps I took
to have access to housing. Everything remained only as promises and lies
on the part of the State agencies. Staying in a hostel means living at
the limit; it's like a prison. They give you a rough time for anything.
Here a simple discussion can become a matter of blood."

In Havana, more than 3,000 nuclear families live in propped up buildings
in danger of collapse. According to figures from the last Census of
Population and Housing, more than 40,000 domiciles in the province are
evaluated as being in grave condition. Seventy percent of these houses
require total demolition.

Add to this the precarious living situation in more than 10,000
tenements of different types, the existence of 109 "transient
communities" — that is, homeless shelters — where 3,285 nuclear families
who have lost their homes or fear a collapse are sheltering, as well as
20,644 housing units in unhealthy neighborhoods and precarious places.

Before Fidel Castro came to power, there were two unhealthy
neighborhoods in the capital: Las Yaguas y Llega y Pon. [ed. note:
notorious shantytowns in Havana]. Now there are around 60. To maintain
and repair housing in the capital, the Government dedicates only 86
million pesos ($3.5 million US).

This figure contrasts with the more than one billion dollars that is
being invested in the construction of eight golf courses.

While a large segment of people must live under the same roof with three
and even four different generations, more than 50 percent of the potable
water is lost through breaks in the hydraulic system.

The Regime only refurbishes or constructs buildings in the tourist
sector or the State institutions. Like the repairs of the Theater of
Havana and the National Capitol: according to engineers in charge of the
works, the cost will exceed 200 million dollars.

In the ancient Chamber, where the political representatives of the
Republic debate, the monotone Communist parliament is expected to begin
its session at the end of 2016, if it is ready on time.

Visually, some 90 percent of Havana has an architectural platform
similar to the one of 1959. Only older and more neglected. It's not hard
to figure out who's guilty.

Iván García

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: The Shipwreck of Havana / Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba -

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