The Color of Prosperity

casa_habanaThe balustrades are shaped like naked women and the wrought iron gate is topped with stone slabs. The garden barely has room for a couple of feet of grass from which a diminutive Pekinese barks all day. From the front door you can see the line of the bar that divides the living room from the kitchen, with bottles filled with colored liquids. A plastic tank overlooks the roof, storing enough water for days of scarcity. The iron and glass windows reveal the figures moving within the house and at night also reflect the brightness of the TV. The entire lowercase “mansion” has been painted the vermillion color that today is a sign of prosperity. With this tone preferred by those who  make their way economically despite privations and bureaucratic absurdities.

Even on unpaved streets, these homes stand out, retouched by their own efforts and convertible pesos. Minuscule palaces with pretensions of grandeur suddenly popping into view. They leave us caught between surprise and optimism, on encountering them amid the twists and turns of La Platanito, La Timbre, Zamora, el Romerillo, and other rundown neighborhoods. Hard up against overflowing dumpsters or sewer ditches the ooze down the road, but within themselves these “doll houses” are like bubbles of well-being. They have these pretensions expressed in fanciful details such as columns shaped like tree branches, or plaster dwarfs guarding the gates. Extravagantly decorated tons of times, architecturally ridiculous many others, these imitation castles speak of a strong desire to live in a beautiful, personalized space. They are like the baroque walls of some mausoleum in a Havana cemetery, but this time for the enjoyment of life.

I love to stumble across these facades and see their occupants looking out from the small balconies. There is something in them, in the paint chosen to cover the walls and in the bell hanging over the door that gives me hope. I am comforted to know that the desire to progress materially was not erased by so many years of false egalitarianism and faked modesty. Some eagerness for prosperity remains within us and now this greed has a color, vermillion, that is impossible to hide.


637 thoughts on “The Color of Prosperity

  1. I am an American pastor and was in Cuba about three weeks ago with a team asissting the house churches there. God is at work on the island in great ways. I’ll be praying for you as you go. We pray daily for the Cuban people and our brothers and sisters in Christ who are there. I would love to connect with you personally about your work there when you return. God bless.

  2. It’s beautiful. It’s hot. You’ll love it.The best thing is to reuqest a room overlooking the ocean. Oceanview is always the nicest and best. You can sit out at night on your balcony and listen to the waves.Choose a room on the highest floor. You will find the ground floor rooms to be more damp and mustier.However, at Playa Pesquero, I believe it’s just two floor villa rooms. Either way, go for a beachfront.It doesn’t usually take that long to get to the pools and restaurants from wherever you are at most resorts.Have fun!

  3. CUBA: A Good Old Age in Old Havana – IPS Mar 5, 2010 . The ptoiriry is to care for elderly residents with programmes that could become a model for the rest of Cuba, whose population is ageing ..Jorge Perez-Lopez. inter-census annual increase of the first period, 1907 to 1919. The Cuban population under age 15 usual- ly amounted to about 36% of the total population ..

  4. Good luck, Un Soricel. We all see different things depending where we’ve been. I’m sure you will continue to change, as we all do.

  5. Pamela, and as a leftover yeah I fully agree that the USA is more complex and more varied…. The only question is why aren’t you guys? …. That was very unpleasant surpise .. On the same par with Orwell writing that Britain has good people in it but the country is in the hand of b’stards (roughly quoted)…. Imagine the surpise I got coming to the UK the cradle of Europeandemocracy and finding 1984 abook of my youuth could have happened and in part it did happen here… Not much of a surprise that the USA is going that way too… I suppose it has to do with the burden of having a history in a more methphysical way… Bye… Sorry to offend if I did it wasnt meant as such more than explaining how I feel and what I have seen.


  7. Vesco Linked to Cuban Drug Smuggling (1985)

    Fugitive financier Robert L. Vesco is collaborating with Cuban and Nicaraguan officials to smuggle narcotics into the United States and Europe, the head of the U.S. Customs Service told a Senate subcommittee Friday.

    Customs Commissioner William von Raab said Vesco has worked closely with Frederico Vaughn, a top aide to the Nicaraguan interior minister, and that funds from the drug trade have often been used to purchase automatic weapons for the leftist Sandinista government’s war with the Nicaraguan rebels, or contras. Cuba’s role in the operation has been to provide protection for drug smugglers moving narcotics by ship or plane to the United States in hopes of causing social turmoil, Von Raab testified Friday.

  8. CL,

    I posted the piece about Chavez for it’s own sake. While I realize it was not about Cuba (pace Humberto), as Chavez is a good amigo of Fidel & Raul, it was worth posting. The other piece I linked further down was about Cuba possibly becoming a narco-state. It’s an interesting issue. If you wish to inform yourself, go ahead and read it. As mentioned in that article, the driving force in the trend towards the growing power and influence of violent narcotics gangs is the huge markets in the US & Europe. The author argues therefore it’s in the US interest to work with Cuban police and courts to deal with the problem rather than refusing to have anything to do with Cuba. Canadian & Spanish police already have working relationships with Cuban police on drug issues.

    The fact is drugs have been in Cuba since before the revolution, when it was a major base for US gangsters smuggling heroin into the US. Castro broke up that operation. But… drugs are still around. I was offered marijuana by a waiter at a resort in Cuba ( I declined). Pot is grown in the mountains by Cuban’s desperate to make a few bucks. Gutierrez’s novels discuss quite a lot of drug use during the hard times of the 90’s, mostly marijuana again, but also cocaine. Leon Padura’s Cuban detective fiction mentions dealers selling grass & cocaine. Some pills are used by youth sub-culture groups in Havana. So there is drug use & trafficking in Cuba. Not on the scale of some US cities, but it’s there for sure. I have not heard of the widespread use of “heavy” drugs like heroin, crack or meth in Cuba. The drugs of choice for most Cubans remain rum & cigars.

    There are reports that various Cuban gov’t officials and high ranking FAR military officers have been involved in transporting & dealing in drugs. Norberto Fuentes, a former close associate of Castro who defected to the US has detailed Castor’s involvement in the international drug trade. Castro uses Cuba to transship drugs to Europe & the US, relying on networks of Cuban ex-pat criminals in the US & Spain. Every once in a while, Castor has arrested an officer or official on drug charges as a way to insulate himself and mislead the media into thinking he’s “totally against drugs”.

    An interesting example is the case of General Arnaldo Ochoa, who had fought with Castro in the Sierra Maestra, fought at the Bay of Pigs, and led the Cuban forces in Angola & Somalia. He returned from Angola something of a hero, always a dangerous thing to be around Castro. While in Angola, Ochoa got involved in the trade of drugs, ivory & diamonds to supplement the wages and other costs of his soldiers. Or so the legend goes. Once back in Cuba, Ochoa was eventually arrested, tried, found guilt and executed for treason. Yet there are those who say he was a fall guy for the Castro’s who resented the General’s popularity. Maybe it was a bit of both?

    Cuban & Venezuelan military are known to be working with FARC, the Marxist guerrillas-turned-narco-terrorists in Colombia. Interpol investigated the crash of an airline in Africa that had flown from Caracas and was loaded with several tonnes of cocaine. The former President of Colombia accused Chavez drug & gun running with FARC and of providing safe shelter to FARC on Venezuelan territory.

    By the way, the country with the highest per-capita rate of drug addiction is Iran. Heroin, morphine & hashish addiction is rampant in the Islamic Republic, where the IIRG controls the drug trade. Interesting to note, Cuba and IRan have been developing close ties and trading relationships lately. Do you suppose Iranians have a taste for Cuban pork or rum?

    So yes, drugs is a relevant topic for discussion on a blog about Cuban issues, even if it’s not about housing.


  10. #619 Humberto,
    No my friend, just commenting on the other folks who have strayed from the subject at hand. Everyone else in here seems to be debating everything else except Cuban issues, like Russia, Noriega, Chavez, Brazil and Transylvania, so I didn`t want to miss out on the fun, lol.
    By the way Humberto, why do you always diss me when I talk other topics than Cuba, and not the others who do the same?? Give me a break bro, pick on someone else for a change will you.

  11. Havana: The New Art of Making Ruins

    Part 2 of 6

    Notice the deteriorated facade with the large wooden doors nailed with sloping pieces of wood. In front of the building, two large dumps of was one of the most important and beautiful theater building of the city, in which great artist used to performed on the 1950’s.

    In one of the best scenes of the documentary, which supports Ponte’s theory, the camera travels slowly through the streets, filming the buildings facades while playing the Adagio of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, attempting to draw parallels with Death in Venice, Luchino Visconti film, who chose this music, and the Cuban capital. In reality it looks more like a scene of Germany Year Zero, Rossellini’s movie, you feel the desire of screaming.

  12. NARCOCON INTERNATIONAL: Cuba Drug Addiction Problem

    The most significant characteristic of drug trafficking, substance abuse and addiction in Cuba is the remarkable absence of reports by the Cuban government. During Fidel Castro’s reign, drug trafficking has been a phenomenon that simply doesn’t exist. It was banned. But many signs refute this claim.

    The Miami Herald reported that in the late 1990s, a number of major drug trafficking figures from Colombia, Mexico and Peru were reported to be holding meetings or living in Cuba. Given the repressive nature of the society, it is unlikely that these visits went unnoticed or were unapproved by the Cuban government.

    About this time, the Drug Enforcement Agency estimated that two tons of cocaine per year was flowing through Cuba to other destinations. But then in 1998, a shipment of more than seven tons of cocaine was seized in Cartagena, Colombia, just days before it left for Cuba. From Cuba, the cargo was supposed to be re-shipped to Spain. As one Drug Enforcement Agent pointed out, large shipments like this are never made without the “pipeline” already having been tested. The company shipping this cocaine had previously made four other container shipments to Cuba that went on to Spain.

    Several years earlier, a Cuban intelligence agent who defected to the U.S. in the early 1990s testified about Colombian drug smugglers who were allowed to use Cuba to transship drugs to the U.S. market in the 1970s. In 2004, one of the most notorious Colombian drug traffickers was arrested as he entered Cuba. And these are far from the only stories about traffickers using Cuba as a headquarters for their operations.

    In 2004, the Cuban government did release some information about drug seizures. They reported that in the first half of 2003, they had interdicted nearly four tons of drugs, largely marijuana, plus nearly half a ton of cocaine.


    The Narconon program is a non-profit public benefit organization dedicated to eliminating drug abuse through drug prevention, drug education and drug rehabilitation.

  13. Cuba Libre said: “However if you want to debate the drug issue, take for granted that the US is the highest percentage of drug addicts and drug users in the whole wide world probably. An interesting market for any drug smuggler or cartel, let alone Venezuela and Colombia.”


  14. # 606 Griffin,
    I don`t understand what drug trafficking has to do with the Cuban housing issue that Yoani complains about on this post of hers. However if you want to debate the drug issue, take for granted that the US is the highest percentage of drug addicts and drug users in the whole wide world probably. An interesting market for any drug smuggler or cartel, let alone Venezuela and Colombia. Ever hear of the “French Connection” which used to supply Canada and the US with the purest heroin available. If there would be no drug users, there wouldn`t be a market for drug smugglers and dealers. Wherever there is a quick buck to be made, rest assured someone will find the means of providing the products that are demanded. That is the great capitalist way. Easy money no matter how many lives it ruins. How many drug users or addicts do you know of in Cuba? Me personally I have never seen any drug users or dealers there.

  15. Humberto,

    As I’m sure you know, these so-called reforms are too little and far too limited to really be called “free enterprise” . The gov’t still controls hiring, salaries and prices. The businesses can’t set their own. This is a major reason why the reforms wont accomplish anything.

    They might bring in a little bit more cash, but that’s not really clear. True free enterprise creates wealth by introducing innovative products or services. These gov’t regulations won’t allow that. Or the enterprise finds a new, more productive ay of doing things. Again, the gov’t regulations won’t allow that.

    The two of major structural problems in Cuba’s economy are the inefficient allocation of resources and low productivity of state run enterprises. The limitations and controls in the reforms ensure those problems will remain.


    NPR: Columnist Andres Oppenhemier Says Invite Cuba To Future Summits – April 18, 2012


    MIAMI HERALD: In Cuba, private economy is growing — slowly – By Kevin G. Hall
    Most of the 181 newly allowed self-employment categories involve menial labor and services that are most relevant in urban areas — beauty salons, barber shops, plumbers and the like. By the government’s count, it’s already granted 371,000 licenses.

    The reforms, however, remain far from anything resembling free-market capitalism. Tellingly, not included among the openings are medicine, scientific research and a range of technical jobs that the government has kept under its control. There are no wholesale businesses to provide goods and services to the expanding class of entrepreneurs.

    Programs to learn how to run a business also are rare, though the Roman Catholic Church now offers business-training programs in Havana. There are no trade or vocational schools to speak of. Capital for farming is all but non-existent.

    Nevertheless, a week of interviews across the island, conducted by McClatchy during the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI, indicates that Cubans welcome the change. However, many remain wary, mindful that a similar opening 20 years ago snapped shut when the economic crisis engendered by the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union was overcome.

    Among the complaints is the cut the government takes from their now-legal earnings — something that might feel familiar to an American at tax time.

    Hidalgo pays taxes every month to the government and is unhappy that at the end of the year a government auditor pores over her receipts and then gives her an additional tax bill.

    “You pay all year. Why do they do it to us [again] at the end of the year?” she complained.

    But her biggest challenge is the lack of any wholesale market that caters to restaurants. To ensure she has food to serve, she must stand in line with ordinary Cubans doing their shopping, often crossing her city in search of items that invariably have run out.

    Yaime, a farmer from near Bayamo in eastern Cuba, complained that the state had required him to raise pigs as part of an effort to boost food production, but after their slaughter had not paid him for months so that he could raise new swine. Things are not getting better, he said.

    Some U.S. officials believe what’s taking place is being carefully managed to lessen an inherent contradiction: the more the government opens the economy, the more it embraces what it stood against for five decades.

    Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the driver of the reforms is Raul Castro, 80, who ran the Cuban armed forces for decades before his ascent to the presidency. As army chief he turned to free-market concepts to make the military self-sufficient in crops and parts production. He’s also placed military cronies in high places, suggesting that the openings are calculated with an eye toward just how much liberalization can be tolerated.

    “The military is really the economic engine of the country, so it’s done within what the military feels it can manage,” said Vicki Huddleston, a retired U.S. ambassador who ran the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1999 to 2002. “You have no civil society [in Cuba] is what it amounts to.”

    Another U.S. official currently involved in American policy toward the island called the reforms “nibbling at the margins.”

  18. Red color maybe will work for prosperity of Cuba…so it is good idea that not just USA but also Canada sleeps in the Cuba’s warm bed…replacing Russia the lost lover.
    If Canada will stay longer and closer with Cuba…maybe it will change it…to a better looking prostitute and who now is religious also…or nice,not wild as before

  19. Brazil and Venezuela want to sleep with Cuba too…so they are mad with USA why she has make Cuba her sex slave and dont let it share…Maybe they are right but Cuba cant sleep with all,be a street prostitute as the leftist South American countries want

  20. 606Griffin

    Abril 19th, 2012 at 12:17
    The judge who can convict Chávez

    I am afraid some heads will soon fall in Venezuela…… it is a very dangerous thing to be a proven narco state……. Noriega can talk about that best…….. Castro was more “clever’ in a Mafiosi way when knowing his involvement in narcotrafic was on the way to be proven in a irrefutable way took quick measurements to put the responsibility of the crime on some of his thugs and killed them in a mediatic show know as “cause #1″…….. Chavez surely will do the same…. so, in the next days we will see people killed in Venezuela or more people escaping Venezuela and coming voluntarily to US justice because in USA they will have the benefice of keeping the life.

  21. ANDRES CARRION ALVAREZ was arrested in Cuba for not supporting the REGIME. CUBA IS ONE BIG JAIL.

  22. 603Un Soricel

    Abril 19th, 2012 at 12:02

    Dummy don’t go…… I know it is a hard job to make international ridiculous every day and suffer a chronic lack of argument that only you can intent to cover diverting the themes, avoiding to give answers and replacing inexistent arguments with personal and stupid attacks…… but this is no reason to run away like a cowardice…….. be a true “Transylvanian”, hang some garlic on your monitor and suffer our facts, arguments, and graphical proves on your feet…… don’t fly best asset, don’t escape!!!!!

  23. Why Havana Had to Die

    “I suspect that the neglectful ruination of Havana has served a profoundly ideological purpose. After all, the neglect has been continuous for nearly half a century, while massive subsidies from the Soviet Union were pouring in. A dictator as absolute as Castro could have preserved Havana if he had so wished, and could easily have found an economic pretext for doing so.

    Havana, however, was a material refutation of his entire historiography—of the historiography that has underpinned his policies and justified his dictatorship for 43 years. According to this account, Cuba was a poor agrarian society, impoverished by its dependent relationship with the United States, incapable without socialist revolution of solving its problems. A small exploitative class of intermediaries benefited enormously from the neocolonial relationship, but the masses were sunk in abject poverty and misery.

    But Havana was a large city of astonishing grandeur and wealth, which was clearly not confined to a tiny minority, despite the coexistence with that wealth of deep poverty. Hundreds of thousands of people obviously had lived well in Havana, and it is not plausible that so many had done so merely by the exploitation of a relatively small rural population. They must themselves have been energetic, productive, and creative people. Their society must have been considerably more complex and sophisticated than Castro can admit without destroying the rationale of his own rule.

    In the circumstances, therefore, it became ideologically essential that the material traces and even the very memory of that society should be destroyed. In official publications (and all publications in Cuba are official) the only positive personages from the past are rebels and revolutionaries, representing a continuing nationalist tradition of which Castro is the apotheosis: there is no god but revolution, and Castro is its prophet. The period between Cuban independence and the advent of Castro is known as “the Pseudorepublic,” and the corrupt thuggery of Batista, as well as the existence of poverty, is all that needs (or is allowed) to be known of life immediately before Castro.

    But who created Havana, and where did the magnificence come from, if before Castro there were only poverty, corruption, and thuggery? Best to destroy the evidence, though not by the crude Taliban method of blowing up the statues of Buddha, which is inclined to arouse the opprobrium of the world: better to let huge numbers of people camp out permanently in stolen property and then let time and neglect do the rest. In a young population such as Cuba’s, with little access to information not filtered through official channels, life among the ruins will come to seem normal and natural. The people will soon be radically disconnected from the past of the very walls they live among. And so the present ruins of Havana are the material consequence of a monomaniacal historiography put into practice.

    The terrible damage that Castro has done will long outlive him and his regime. Untold billions of capital will be needed to restore Havana; legal problems about ownership and rights of residence will be costly, bitter, and interminable; and the need to balance commercial, social, and aesthetic considerations in the reconstruction of Cuba will require the highest regulatory wisdom. In the meantime, Havana stands as a dreadful warning to the world—if one were any longer needed—against the dangers of monomaniacs who believe themselves to be in possession of a theory that explains everything, including the future.”

  24. The judge who can convict Chávez

    “Mr. Aponte confessed that he received direct orders from President Hugo Chávez to use his legal power against individuals that opposed the regime. As president of the criminal tribunal of the Supreme Court, Aponte had supervision of all criminal courts in the country and practically on all judges, with a capacity to influence almost any judicial decision.

    Moreover, in his testimony Mr. Aponte says he also received calls from Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, Venezuela’s Defense Minister and Hugo Carvajal, who until recently was the head of military intelligence, among others, ordering him to “manipulate judicial proceedings.” Both Rangel Silva and Carvajal have been designated by the U.S. Treasury as “drug kingpins” for their ties to the narco-terrorist FARC guerrilla army in Colombia. Moreover, Aponte alleges that he has “evidence” of the high officials’ ties to narcotics traffickers. An example he cites is that of a drug shipment that was safeguarded overnight in a Venezuelan military base. Aponte says he was ordered to provide legal cover for the drug shipment as it made its way from the border to “the center of the country” (on the coast, where Venezuela’s ports are located).”

  25. griffin… don’t forget to water your stats when I’m gone …like the plant you are!!

  26. Russia was their lover girl too…so the trio had a very good time in the paradise island…where they slep all inthe same bed for decades…but it did serve to the world peace and to the future generations…so they all can sleep in the same bed…

  27. Well Freud @599, if that is true then as a Romania proved goes – you cut your own branch from the tree! Smart gardner you are!

    Invountary or not, for help you should thank in some cultures… however considering your ‘limited results’ over these 6 months, I doubt that we have indeed helped you in any way.. since you are first of all NOT helping yourselves!

    The only help you can count on is then that Castro is an old man and no one lives forever!


  28. Fact is the Cuba was allways a prostitute with which USA was in love and since they met…they never left each other for 200 years…but sleep in the same bed.Is USA a female or male symbol? If USA is a female and Cuba a male symbol that the prostitute is the men…or there is a story of the two gay girlfriends..USA-CUBA

  29. Help, re #597:

    I was sad for a while too, but then CL showed us some stories about bricks falling off buildings in Toronto and Montreal so now I understand Havana isn’t really crumbling and that was just a CIA plot to fool us cuz in fact Cuban people dance in the streets and eat their fill and everything is lovely down there.

    I feel better now that I stopped thinking and embraced the Revolucion.

  30. John Kennedy understood in the end….that Cuba was as before a property of USA,but not from the rich Miami Cubans…who’s sons were sent as little pigs to the slaughter to meet the butcher guys paid by the same USA…so Kennedy was fooled and was mad and he understood that he was tricked,cheated,lied,used,abused…so he reacted…wanted to remove its boses…from power…like men in ARMY,CIA,US-state-Corporation.
    When he tried to take over the USA…than he was taken out…and so almost all the Kennedys…So noone dare to touch the Cuban Cake…from you lazy bums here and others…The truth is going to make you freefor being dum,blind,lazy,human animals.

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