Stone Dust

Photo: Silvia Corbelle

She gets up and has a little coffee. The concrete of the counter is still fresh. Magaly, her two sons and her husband live in a house under construction. They’ve spent seven years like this. Little by little raising the walls and installing some pipes. Every day that goes by they get closer to the end of the job, but they also live through another day of anxiety and risks to get the materials. Today they need stone dust and washed sand. They get their money together before heading out to the state supply center, inviting me to accompany them. We arrive at the central warehouse, but at the door an employee delivers the bad news. They haven’t stocked up, we’ll have to wait until next week.

We then dive into the world of resellers of cement fillers. Finding them is easy; haggling, impossible. The area around the Cristina railway workshop is the best supplied hardware black market in the whole country. You just have to walk through the doorways and gates for voices to call out asking, “What are you looking for?” We’re cautious, it’s not recommended to go with the first offer. Swindles are everywhere. One man, with a little table where he’s fixing lighters, looks at us and whispers, “I have everything for construction.” In a conjurer’s gesture he passes us a much-handled sheet that contains a list of prices: gravel and sand, 1.50 convertible pesos (CUC)* per sack; Jaimanita exterior stone, 7.00 CUC per square meter; and granite tiles, 10.00 CUC, also per square meter. “If you buy a large quantity transport is included,” he points out, while dismantling a lighter with an Italian flag drawn on the plastic.

My friends do the accounting. Acquiring surfacing for the entire floor would cost their combined wages for 20 months. The costs of the bathroom fixtures are enough to elicit a little scream from Magaly, but it’s barely audible, covered by the noise of the road. They decide to prioritize. Today they’ll take only some blocks, several sacks of sand, and two wooden doors. The vendor adds it up and rounds it off to everything Magaly and her husband earn for half a year’s work. “It will always be a cheaper option than the legal stores,” she says out loud to console herself.

Night falls and everyone’s fingers are covered with a gray layer of cement and dust. The children go to bed in the only room that has a roof. The counter has hardened and the dirty dishes are left on its rough surface because there are still no pipes to deliver the water to wash them. Tomorrow they’ll have to go out and get steel and some electrical switches. One construction day less. Twenty-four hours closer to having their house finished.

*Translator’s note: One Cuban convertible peso (known as a CUC and convertible only in Cuba), is worth roughly one US dollar (before exchange fees). The average monthly wage in Cuba is less than $20 US, and is generally paid in Cuban pesos (CUP); 24 CUP = 1 CUC. Many everyday items, and most “specialty” items are only sold for CUCs, including in State stores.

9 August 2013

21 thoughts on “Stone Dust

  1. The Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas (ONE) estimated in 33,901 the number of houses terminated in 2010, of which 12,214 were built by individuals and the rest by the state.
    The construction of dwellings, around 35,000 units annually, not only aren’t enough to solve the housing deficit, but not even for replacing the losses by diverse causes. No signs of improvement are seeing in the future for the housing problem under the Castroit regime.

  2. The housing situation in Havana reported by sandocan is typical for a big city in Central America. Guatemala City or Port au Prince is no different.

    Havana is just a small part of Cuba and not typical for the island. Everyone who shuns honest work migrates to the capital. In the countryside it is so much easier to chop some palms, build your own house and live peacefully. There is one problem in the rural living though: one has to work there as there are no tourists they could cheat.

  3. The Castroit regime newspaper Juventud Rebelde reported in April 2008 that in the city of Havana alone 28,000 people resided in buildings about to collapse. The expansion of slums
    (shanty towns, shelters) in the city has increased 50%, sheltering as many as 450,000 inhabitants, 20% of the city 2.2 million. It is very common that 3 generations live in a single house. This is the fundamental reason why the people occupy terraces, balconies, porches, sidewalks, and build mezzanines, to gain space. This has created a grave social problem for the regime.

  4. “Big problem” ;-) posted by Humberto: so many Cubans have no internet access.
    PRISM does not work well in Cuba.
    And the NSA is hungry for data.


    TIME MAGAZINE: Cuba’s Journey on the Internet: There’s a Long March Ahead – by Girish Gupta
    As far as the Internet goes, Cuba is the Western Hemisphere’s last frontier. Despite the island nation’s proximity to Florida — just 90 miles away — and the existence of a fully functioning fiber-optic cable linked up to Venezuela, only 25% of the population is online, according to last year’s government statistics, which are likely inflated. In June, Cuban citizens were for the first time legally allowed access at designated “cyber points” but few can afford the charges—the cost of one hour online matches an average Cuban’s week’s salary. In Cuba, foreigners have for a long time been able to get online at high-end hotels on eye-wateringly slow connections costing some $7 an hour. Cubans were banned until June this year when the government allowed them access at 118 expensive “cyber points” across the country. With an average wage of $20 a month, however, the $4.50 an hour cost is prohibitive to most. “I’d love to use the internet to communicate with my family and friends abroad,” says waitress Marianela López, 35, at a bar on the Malecón, the city’s iconic seafront. “But I only earn around $10 a month.”

    But the communist isle is hardly cut off from the outside world. The streets and homes of Havana teem with pendrives, available from bootleggers for around $2, which carry everything from the latest film, music and television releases to property adverts and news. “Of course I know Gangnam Style, the Korean guy!” exclaims Nery Galindo, 24, in the leafy Havana district of Vedado. “But you know what, I saw it first thanks to a pendrive, not on the Internet.” A block down, Tomás Inda Barrera, the director of the School of Creative Photography in Havana, has a pendrive around his neck and two more in his bag. “It’s the easiest way to move information,” he says. “In Cuba, almost everyone has a pendrive. It’s fundamental.”

    Many who are opposed to the government of the Castros hope that wider access to data will galvanize dissent on the island. “I sincerely believe that one day there will be a museum of Cuban democracy and it will have a monument to the pendrive,” says dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, 37, sitting in her Havana living room. “A society so closed off has developed an ingenious underground mechanism to pass on data.” Sánchez has used the Internet to spread her anti-government views despite the restricted access, having snuck into hotels to upload to her blog and used SMS/text messages to post to Twitter. Her blog Generation Y is popular and her Twitter account is followed by more than half a million people. Cuban authorities have arrested Sánchez multiple times since her blog began in 2007.


  6. House deficit is estimated in 1.6 million units. 75% of the units in existence are over 40 years old, and 60% of the total is in bad or average condition according to the Cuban National Housing Institute.

    During the last 50 years the construction of new houses has been dismal. The regime statistics in the construction of new houses are cooked. This suspicion is validated by Former Vice-Minister Carlos Lage who near the beginning of 2009 revealed that less than half of the 111,300 housing units claimed built in 2006 were in fact built.

    The 2002 census data show that of the new housing units built between 1990 and 2002, close to 50,000 were bohíos and adobe structures (primitive dwellings with palm bark walls, earthen floors and palm leave roofs; adobe, mud bricks walls, earthen floors and palm leave roofs}. Those can’t be classified as adequate housing.

  7. This is a very good question, sandokan!

    All depends of what those who had stayed rathen then emigrated would do. What occupation would they choose?

    If those staying on the island would become blogggers, “dissidents”, prostitutes or “Damas in Blanco” the housing situation would be much worse then it is today.

    If, on the other hand, they would become welders, bricklayers, carpenters and civil engineers the housing would be much better today.

  8. Over 1.7 million Cubans have left the island permanently since 1959 and another 800,000 have been born abroad, making available the equivalent of 530,000 household. The depth of the house deficit crisis is disguise by making the vacated housing of those who left the island available to those who stay behind.
    Can you imagine what would be the real housing deficit and the gravity of the social problem if those Cubans were living in the island and would not have been such “escape valve” for the pressure cooker?

  9. ABC NEWS: Cuban-Americans Call off Protests Against Bahamas

    Cuban-American activists in South Florida ended a hunger strike and series of protests Monday over the alleged mistreatment of Cubans detained in the Bahamas.

    The Bahamian government’s announcement that it would conduct a formal investigation into the allegations coupled with a decision by Panama to grant asylum to 19 of 43 detained Cubans means the protest achieved its goals, said Ramon Saul Sanchez, a leader of a Cuban-American activist group.

    “This is a victory for human dignity,” he said.

    The group’s noisy protests outside the Bahamian consulate and near the cruise ship port in Miami, as well as calls for a tourism boycott, angered Bahamian officials, who denied any mistreatment of migrants and had said an investigation was unnecessary.

    Late last week, however, the government issued a statement saying it would conduct a formal investigation into the allegations raised by the demonstrators, which included claims that migrants at the Carmichael Road Detention Center had been beaten by guards, denied access to adequate food and medical care and prevented from making asylum claims.

    “We will review the report and act accordingly, and take any punitive or disciplinary action as deemed necessary,” the statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

    The Bahamas also agreed to allow a U.S. official to visit the Carmichael Road Detention Center, which has been criticized by governmental agencies and human rights groups for years for overcrowding and other problems.



    PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Panama ending search of N. Korean ship from Cuba
    PANAMA CITY (AP) – Panamanian officials say they’re ending their search of a North Korean ship that was detained as it carried weapons from Cuba. Public Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino tells The Associated Press that Panama removed the ship’s last unopened container, which was buried under sacks of sugar, and found it held equipment for launching missiles. Panama has unloaded and searched 25 containers, finding a variety of weapons systems and parts. Cuba says it was not violating sanctions meant to halt sophisticated arms sales to North Korea because the ship contained obsolete weapons being sent back for repair. But some of the containers were loaded with undeclared live munitions, and United Nations experts will be in Panama in the coming days to prepare a report on whether the shipment violated sanctions.

  11. It should be noted that many houses built after 1959 have a lot of construction deficiencies, due the poor quality of materials used and the works performed. Most of the housing had managed to survive with minimum maintenance.

    The city of Havana hasn’t suffers a hurricane of great intensity since October 18, 1944, when a category 3 hurricane with a combination of heavy rains and sustain gust of 262 KPH caused heavy damages and loss of lives. The occurrence of a hurricane of such intensity would cause a mayor disaster, with the number of houses damaged and buildings in a ruinous state, partially and totally collapsed in the hundred of thousand. The amount of money to replace them would mounts in the billions.

    The task of housing the victims, rebuild thousands of government buildings and rebuilt the agricultural industry, will be practically impossible to ever accomplish it. There will be food shortages in the capital and the regime would have to spend money on groceries to avoid rampage and riots by the population.



    THE PROVIDENCE: Panama finds more munitions aboard ship travelling from Cuba to North Korean
    PANAMA CITY – Authorities in Panama say they have found more explosives aboard a North Korean-flagged ship detained in the Panama Canal for carrying undeclared arms from Cuba.

    Anti-drug prosecutor Javier Caraballo said Saturday that inspectors found a kind of “anti-tank RPG (rocket-propelled grenade)” explosive when they opened one of five wooden boxes on the Chong Chon Gang. He said the other boxes were not opened because of security fears.

    The discovery comes just over a week after authorities said explosive-sniffing dogs had found another batch of ammunition for grenade launchers and other unidentified types of munitions.

    The ship was seized July 15 based on intelligence that it may have been carrying drugs.

    The manifest said it was carrying 10,000 tons of sugar, but Cuban military equipment was found beneath the sacks.

  13. Y., Thanks for the new English blog !! Maybe there is a way to send dollard to a foundation that can help those who are self home builders. We surely missed the accurate news and views from your blog. ( We are working on our Spanish vocabulary ). S.

  14. Well, Humberto, if one day the President of Cuba dies, you will still be left with someone to blame for the thief markets in Cuba: MARABUFASCISTS!

  15. This blog post describes trading with stolen goods.
    The author of this text should be ashamed to report the facts without even one word of condemnation for the thieves.

    Mr President Raul: you are far to mild! What is Havana police doing? Cubas enemy is not the “opposition” – they are clowns. The thieves are the enemy. They steal fast openly, blogs are written about them and what are YOU doing? If one day Cuba will need cement and iron bars to build more prisons I will be the first to donate $1000

    Lock them up, Raul! Don’t be coward.

  16. Nick!! AMIGO!!!!!!!!! GLAD TO SEE YOU (virtually speaking)!!

    MONTREAL GAZETTE (AP): – US ambassador asks Cuban foreign minister to investigate death of dissident Oswaldo Paya – by Edith M. Lederer
    U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power asked Cuba’s foreign minister on Tuesday to investigate the death of Oswaldo Paya, saying the Cuban dissident “stood up for freedom.” Paya was the lead organizer of the Varela Project, a signature-gathering drive regarded as the largest nonviolent campaign to change the system Fidel Castro established in 1959. The government said he died in a car crash in Bayamo, Cuba, in July 2012 when the car he was riding in struck a tree, but his family insists the crash was not an accident and has pressed for an international investigation. Power, a former foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, made her appeal on her second day as U.S. ambassador. She spoke with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at a lunch hosted by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who had just chaired a Security Council meeting.

    In a tweet Tuesday afternoon, Power said: “Oswaldo Paya stood up for freedom. Just raised with the Cuban FM the need for a credible investigation into his death.”

    The encounter was a rare meeting between a U.S. ambassador and a Cuban foreign minister.

    Cuba and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since the 1959 communist revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, though both countries are represented at the United Nations.

    In June, Paya’s daughter Rosa Maria said she decided to seek refuge in Miami after facing continued repression on the island. Rosa Maria, 24, said she and her family had been the subject of threats, harassment and increased vigilance since her father’s death.

    Six members of the family have now left Cuba, but they have vowed to continue the work of Oswaldo Paya from Miami in conjunction with activists on the island.

  17. THERE WILL BE JUSTICE VERY SOON FOR Oswaldo Paya & Harold Cepero!
    MIAMI HERALD: U.S. should press harder on Payá’s death – Andres Oppenheimer
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power deserves credit for asking Cuba’s foreign minister to launch a credible investigation into the suspicious death of leading Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, but she should have gone a step further. Early last week, Power tweeted that she had just raised with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez the need for a serious investigation into the mysterious 2012 car accident in which Payá lost his life. Payá, who I had the honor of interviewing many times, was Cuba’s Mahatma Gandhi. He never raised his voice, and consistently preached a message of non-violence and national reconciliation. Many of us saw him as Cuba’s best hope for a post-Castro era.

    But the Payá family’s story began looking much more credible a few months later when, back in Spain, Carromero told The Washington Post on March 5 that he had signed the Cuban affidavit under duress, and that Cuban secret police cars — with their blue license plates that characterize them — “were following us from the beginning.”

    Carromero said that the last time he had looked back in the mirror before losing consciousness, “I realized that the car had gotten too close — and suddenly I felt a thunderous impact from behind.”

    In a subsequent interview with the Spanish daily El Mundo last week, Carromero said that Payá and Cepero had survived the crash and were taken to a hospital, where “Cuba’s secret services killed him.”

    Adding to the latest revelations, El Mundo published pictures of the original text messages sent by the two Europeans from the site of the accident. Payá’s daughter Rosa María posted the pictures at her father’s website.


    HUFFINGTON POST: Not Surprised by Cuba’s Weapons Smuggling to North Korea – by Mauricio Claver-Carone
    When the United States turned up the heat on drug smuggling, Fidel and his brother Raul, then-head of Cuba’s armed forces, identified Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez as their scapegoat. Cubans in general held Ochoa’s legendary courage in the African wars in high esteem. To the Castros that made him a potential rival. In quick order, Ochoa was accused of drug trafficking, given a televised Stalinist-style trial and executed. Several months later, the United States invaded Panama and arrested its leader Manuel Noriega for selling “safe passage” through the Panama Canal to the Medellin Cartel. Noriega was hauled off to Miami, tried and convicted. Testimony and evidence gleaned in that trial led U.S. prosecutors, in 1993, to prepare a racketeering indictment naming Raul Castro and 12 other high-ranking officers in Cuba’s armed forces as drug-trafficking conspirators with the Medellin cartel. The Clinton administration later chose not to pursue the charges.

    Now, Panamanian authorities have found an arsenal of Cuban weapons loaded onto a North Korean ship, the Chong Chon Gang, and hidden by bags of sugar, all loaded in Havana. Ironically the Panamanians had stopped the ship expecting to find drugs. In the last few years, five other ships have set sail from North Korea, docked in Havana and then returned directly to North Korea via the canal. Who knows what else has passed through the canal? Kim and the Castros know, but those addicts of power, force and flouting impunity are not gloating… yet.


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