For over a decade the corner of Infanta and Manglar showed the unfinished mass of a twenty-story building. Its completion ran aground with the coming of the Special Period and the end of the construction concept known as the “microbrigade.” Those who had laid the foundation with the illusion of getting an apartment in the high-rise, raged with impotence when it was announced construction could not continue. They had given years of their lives to raise the walls and suddenly the wished-for home escaped them with the same celerity as the Soviet technicians, boarding airplanes back to their homeland.
With its twenty floors incomplete, and still surrounded by construction materials, the building came to be one of those new ruins that un-gild our city. The enormous housing problems led many to make plans to occupy it illegally, so as not to have to stay in a shelter provided for the victims of some remote cyclone. The site, however, was well-guarded as some office was cooking up a plan to restart the work and award the apartments. The neighbors saw them return with some cranes, trucks and cement, and a few construction workers, who would not live there after the opening. In place of the original microbrigade members, the owners would be selected based on their political, artistic or journalistic merit. We all understood what they were doing: the building at Infanta and Manglar would be awarded to the most faithful.
In the middle of the campaign to bring Elián González back to Cuba, some voices stood out who were immediately seen to be compensated for their enthusiasm with a key to their new home. Popular cunning baptized the finally completed building in Cerro, “Fame and Applause” – a reference to the TV show – and it began to fill with singers, film directors, cartoonists, ministers, reporters and actors. Participating in the “Battle of Ideas” now would have a concrete result: the ability to enjoy a window with a view of the impoverished district of San Martín. For many, finally getting their own home encouraged them to commit themselves even more to the official discourse and their public stance moved a little closer to unconditional support. Below, the illuminated parking lot was rapidly filling with modern cars which arrived to complete the already substantial perks.
The eyes that peek out of the humble dwellings next door are surprised that the ruined building of old is now a huge mass, freshly painted, with anti-glare glass, and famous faces looking out of each window.
* The so-called Battle of Ideas was twist in the ideological propaganda that arose with the Elián González case and died – without any announcement from the official press – a couple of years ago now. It consumed enormous economic resources to mobilize participants of Open Forums, prepare T-shirts with political slogans, and organize marches of revolutionary reaffirmation.