Havana, how you hurt me!

Collapsed building in Havana (Photo: Sylvia Corbelle)

Collapsed building in Havana (Photo: Sylvia Corbelle)

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 16 November 2004 – To be a Havanan is not having been born in a territory, it’s carrying that territory on your back and not being able to put it down. The first time I realized I belonged to this city I was seven years old. I was in a little town in Villa Clara, trying to reach some guavas on a branch, when a bunch of kids from the place surrounded my sister and me. “They’re from Havana! They’re from Havana!” they shrieked. At that moment we didn’t understand so much uproar, but with time we realized that we had come by a sad privilege. Having been born in this city in decline, in this city whose major attraction is what it could be, not what it is.

I am totally urban, a city girl. I grew up in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood where the nearest trees are more than 500 yards away. I am the child of asphalt, of the smell of kerosene, of clotheslines dripping from the balconies and sewer pipes that overflow from time to time. This has never been an easy city. Not even on the tourist postcards, with their retouched colors, can you see a comfortable and comprehensible Havana.

Sometimes now I don’t want to walk it, because it hurts me. I am heading up Belascoaín, my back the sea that I know so well. I arrive at the corner of Reina Street. There is a Gothic-style church, which as a little girl I perceived to be lost in the clouds. I saw my first Christmas tree there when I was seventeen. I walk though the doors, skipping a little to this side and that. Water trickles down some stairs and a woman tries to sell me some milk caramels that are the same color as the street.

I see the traffic light at Galiano, but the pace slows because there are so many people. A cop turns the corner and some hide themselves behind the doors or slip into stores as if they were going to buy something. When the officer leaves, they return and offer their merchandise in undertones. Because Havana is a city of cries and whispers. Those immersed in their own blather may never hear the whispers. The most important things are always said with a nod, a gesture or a simple pursing of the lips that warns you, “be careful,” “coming over there,” “follow me.” A language developed during decades of the clandestine and illegal.

Neptune Street is nearby. I hear an old couple in front of a façade saying, “Hey? Wasn’t it here where there was…?” but I didn’t manage to hear the end of the sentence. Better that way, because Havana is a sequence of nostalgia, memories. When you walk, it’s like you’re traversing the path of the lost. Where a building collapses into rubble that remains for days, for weeks. Later, the hole is made into a park, or a metal kiosk is built to sell soap, trinkets and rum. A lot of rum, because this is a city that drowns its sorrows in alcohol.

I reach the Malecon. In less than half an hour I’ve walked the slice of the city that in my childhood seemed to contain the whole metropolis. Because I was a “guajira de Centro Habana,” an urchin of downtown, one of those who thinks that “the green zones” start right after Infanta Street. With time, I understood that this capital is too big to know the whole of. I also learned that those born in the neighborhoods of Diez de Octubre, el Cerro, el Vedado or Marianao, shared the same sensation of pain. In any event, Havana shows its wounds in any neighborhood.

I touch the wall that separates us from the sea. It is rough and warm. Where are those kids who, in my childhood, in a remote little village, looked at me in astonishment because I was a Havanan? Will they want to bear this burden? Have they also ended up in this city, living among its dumpsters and lights? Does it pain them like it pains me? I’m sure it does, because Havana is not just a location inscribed in our identity documents. This city is a cross that is carried everywhere, a territory that once you have lived it, you cannot abandon.


121 thoughts on “Havana, how you hurt me!

  1. I wonder what honey production has to do with Cuban children dying under collapsing buildings?

    Maybe Omar can tell us what Castro is doing with all the billions he gets for housing construction?

    Does he build houses for the poor or for his military officers?

    Does Castro have a swimming pool?

    Does Castro have his own private islands?

    Is Castro’s roof in bad shape?

  2. The increased of shanty towns, the so call “llega y pon”, around the larger Cuban cities, have been caused by the chronic housing deficit. The Castroit regime propaganda promised their despairing under socialism. But in reality the number of shanty towns and people living on them have increased. In metropolitan Havana along there are 94 neiborghoods with unsanitary living conditions and around 79,000 rundown tenement buildings.

  3. Honey production in Matanzas could break record

    Business and Economy
    The goal for this 2014 producers of honey in Matanzas is 1250 tons and so far have completed 70% of them. If they achieve the expected figure it would be the most successful production in the province.

  4. Cuba and Mexico are working to create a mixed company for the production of flexible packaging for dairy, food and cosmetics, which could begin operations in the first quarter of 2015.

    Ricardo Trujillo, first vice president of the business group of Light Industry of Cuba, said the firm, under the name Flexocaribe, will help replace imports. The firm is located in the western Cuban town of San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque province.

    The project, carried out between the Mexican company Expomayab Industrial and local Cubalum, aims to meet 80% of domestic demand for such products and promote exports.

    According to Trujillo, Cuba currently has a small company that makes packaging for salt, detergents, spaghetti and soaps, among other items of mass consumption by the population, but the machinery of the factory is outdated.

    Mexican investment will upgrade and expand the technology as well as progress towards production levels that allow Cuba to replace large imports.

  5. German airline Condor expands its services in Cuba with the addition of a weekly flight from Cologne to Varadero Juan Gualberto Gomez International Airport.

    The maiden flight of the German company will arrive in the afternoon to said terminal with about 270 passengers on the German market. The new route will also allow the arrival of tourists from France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

    With operations every Tuesday to Varadero, Condor expands its routes to that beach resort that already offers from Frankfurt, Munich and Vienna. Trips are made in Boeing-300 type aircraft newly renovated.

    The addition of the new route between Cuba and Germany will enable that Condor connections extended to 12 flights per week in the 2014-2015 period.

    Young Ho Oh, President and CEO of Kotra, the Trade Promotion Agency and the Korean Investment advises companies of Seoul invest increasingly in Cuba. Renewable energy is one of the most attractive sectors for possible investment.

    “There are Korean companies that want to invest in Cuba in the future,” said Yong Ho Oh, and stated that the entire negotiation process is embryonic. “We are receiving government support in Cuba, but our countries have some differences of opinion, but what we are doing is bailing these differences, step by step, in order to have a cooperative relationship.”

    According to the director of Kotra, the Island “has a great future in photovoltaics” and Korea can provide the necessary to improve energy efficiency in electricity distribution technology.

    The absence of diplomatic relations between the two nations is the main obstacle to business between Havana and Seoul. Korean entrepreneurs interested in Cuba depend on the consular services of the embassies of their country in Mexico or Canada.


    Solidarity, cooperation, and community empowerment are socialist values promoted by the Bolivarian Revolution in contrast to the individualism and selfishness promoted by the corporate-owned mass media. Cooperatives are quietly transforming people’s values in Venezuela, and the rest of the world, though they have been mostly ignored by the mass media and by many political leaders, too.

    The International Cooperative Alliance defines a cooperative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” Worker cooperatives develop trust, solidarity, and teamwork.

    Because cooperatives promote socialist values, it is natural that the Bolivarian government once promoted cooperatives in Venezuela; what is surprising is that now it does not.

    Before President Hugo Chávez took office in February 1999, there were 813 registered cooperatives in the country with 230,000 total members. Most of these original cooperatives are still active, tough, and resilient because they were created independent of government support or funding. The strongest of these is CECOSESOLA (Cooperatives of Social Services of Lara State). Founded in 1967, the food co-op consists of 538 worker members who sell to 60,000 shoppers each week from three locations in the city of Barquisimeto. Though their prices average 30 percent less than those of commercial supermarkets, their annual sales top US$20 million. This incredibly sophisticated business operation has no bosses or managers; the workers rotate jobs; and all workers receive the same pay. The network also has many different types of small producer cooperatives, credit unions, a health clinic with both conventional medicine and alternative therapies, and a network of cooperative funeral homes.

    The Cooperative Law of 2001 is an excellent piece of legislation that was written by cooperative experts; it sets the minimum number of members at five and requires the government to give preference to cooperatives when awarding contracts. After the failed coup in April 2002, President Chávez began to emphasize cooperatives in a big way in order to transform property into collective forms of ownership and management. He set up a national job-training program, Mission Vuelvan Caras (“About Face”), that paid the minimum wage to the unemployed while they learned basic occupational skills; the trainers taught about cooperatives in every course, and they encouraged the graduates to form one. Co-op registration was made free of charge, co-ops were exempted from income tax, and micro-credit was made available to them.

    CATURVEN is a very successful cooperative today that was formed during that campaign in 2002. It services the heavy machinery produced by Caterpillar Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of earth moving and mining equipment. There are now 38 members, 40 percent of them women, who express they are very happy belonging to a cooperative that pays good salaries to everyone, with less than two times the difference between the highest paid and lowest paid members. They work in greater Caracas, and are part of the Strategic Solidarity Alliance, a network of 17 cooperatives with a total of 986 members that service the Caterpillar heavy equipment throughout the country. In an interview with a team from the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela, Lisset Reyes admitted, and her colleagues agreed, that the only real challenge they face as a cooperative is that it takes a bit longer to come to a decision. But none of them would trade their weekly meetings for an autocratic workplace.

    For six years, from 2002 to 2008, the government invested heavily in their campaign to form cooperatives. The national cooperative supervision institute, SUNACOOP, which headed the government’s campaign, focused on basic education and the legal registration of new cooperatives. This resulted in the phenomenal creation of over 280,000 registered cooperatives; however, the vast majority of those never became active or collapsed. To understand why this big investment failed to make strong co-ops, we need to look at the key factors of their success.

  8. PETROCARIBE member countries have seen a 23% increase of their GDPs since its beginning in 2005, claims Foreign Affairs Minister Rafael Ramírez. On the other hand, Venezuelan Oil and Mining Minister Asdrúbal Chávez points out the agreements of this bloc focus on five structural axes: Transport, communications, productive chains, tourism, trade and the social and cultural aspects of the region. (Veneconomy, http://www.veneconomy.com/site/index.asp?ids=44&idt=41970&idc=4)

  9. China, Russia and now Iran operating freely in our region, a very nasty strain of Socialism with an Islamic tint is spreading its infection like wild fire fuelled by drug money!
    Mexico is spinning out of control fast.
    A foreigner ruling a part of Venezuela, that stinks to high heaven of treason.
    Vzla is a member of the UN Security Council, and a military(!) company that’s been sanctioned by the UNSC is doing business in Vzla!
    All the USA is doing is complain about immigrants!?

  10. Collapse in Havana Leaves More Than 600 People on the Street</b.

    These unfortunate people will be sent to emergency shelters “temporarily” adapted to house families displaced from their homes by collapsing buildings or natural disasters. Due to their permanence, they have become, in effect, Twenty-First Century versions of the historical Havana “solar”.

    Many of these multifamily structures are affected by water filtration, which in turn impacts the electricity supply, as water seeps within walls. While routine maintenance could have prevented these problems, it has seldom been provided. So serious is the problem that apartment dwellers sometimes abandon their units when there are heavy rains.

    Collapse in Havana Leaves More Than 600 People on the Street</b.

    Agusto Cesar San Martin and Pablo Mendez
    Posted on March 5, 2014

    HAVANA, Cuba. — Since the afternoon of last Thursday the 27th, the residents of the building located at 308 Oquendo, between San Rafael and San Miguel, Centro Havana remain on the street.

    The partial collapse of the upper floors put in danger the structure of the five story building of 120 apartments.

    Building in danger of total collapse — photo Augusto Cesar San Martin

    From the first concrete crashes, the more than 600 residents began to abandon the property, transferring their belongings to the street. Facing the imminence of total collapse, the local authorities ordered an evacuation.

    The residents keep doors, bathroom tiles, toilets, electric appliances, beds and all kinds of belongings on the street. These people have not been evacuated.

    At 7:00 pm on Saturday the police ordered the electricity cut off and prohibited entry into the building until Sunday morning. The order caused a disruption for the residents who have not finished gathering their belongings.

    On Friday, local government officials met with some of those affected. According to one of the victims, they made assurances that they would evacuate everyone gradually.

    One of the building’s residents who did not want to be identified told the independent press said:
    “We don’t know where to go. Yesterday nine buses came by here in order to take us to shelters, and they were empty. . . We want homes, not shelter.”

    It is also known that some affected families were installed in apartments of buildings located in Santa Fe, Playa township. The provision of dwellings is prioritized by the composition of nuclear families with children.

    The building constructed in 1928 was declared in danger of collapse in 1988. All the victims consulted agree on the reiteration of the government alerts about the deterioration of the building.

    Photo gallery of collapse in Centro Havana, sent by Augusto Cesar San Martin and Pablo Mendez

    Cubanet, March 3, 2014, Augusto Cesar San Martin and Pablo Mendez
    Translated by mlk.

  11. WALL STREET JOURNAL: The Iran-Cuba-Venezuela Nexus The West underestimates the growing threat from radical Islam in the Americas. – By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

    Regular readers of this column will remember that in July the U.S. asked local officials here to arrest Venezuelan Gen. Hugo Carvajal and to extradite him on suspicion of drug trafficking with Colombian guerrillas. He was detained but the Netherlands stepped in, refused the extradition request and let him go.

    The third person in the high-level greeting party at the airport—the governor of the state of Aragua, Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah—seemed out of place because he is not in the national government. That is until you consider his résumé: One part master of Middle-Eastern networking, one part honorary Cuban revolutionary, and one part highly ambitious chavista, Mr. El Aissami is a dream come true for Tehran and Havana. That makes him a powerful man in Venezuela.

    Although President Obama is being lobbied by left-wing activists to change U.S.-Cuba policy before the next Summit of the Americas in Panama in April, his options are limited by laws that require congressional action to change. But one important decision in his hands is whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. Before the president does that, Americans ought to learn about allegations by a regional security analyst of Cuba-supported work by Mr. El Aissami on behalf of radical Islam.

    In Venezuela and Bolivia, Iran has moved to the next level, developing a military presence through joint ventures in defense industries. In Venezuela, the state of Aragua, where Mr. El Aissami is now governor, is ground zero for this activity.

    Havana applauds this Islamic intervention. Since the rise of chavismo, Cuba has supplied intelligence services to Venezuela and its regional allies, notably Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador. Mr. Humire says it has also supplied passport-information technology to allow these countries to process individuals from the Middle East, hand out new documents and maintain the secrecy of true identities. Cuba has used this capacity to exchange information with like-minded nations, including Russia and Iran.

    The paper, “Canada on Guard: Assessing the Immigration Threat of Iran, Venezuela and Cuba,” says that regional intelligence officials believe that “of the more notable persons of interest” who received false papers from Caracas was Suleiman Ghani Abdul Waked, an important member of Lebanese Hezbollah. The same paper, citing interviews with unnamed Latin American intelligence officials, says Mr. El Aissami has built “a criminal-terrorist pipeline bringing militant Islamists into Venezuela and surrounding countries, and sending illicit funds from Latin America to the Middle East.” Mr. Humire told me the Venezuelan government dismissed the report as U.S. propaganda.

    Mr. El Aissami’s Aragua state is where Parchin Chemical Industries (PCI) and Qods Aviation, two Iranian military-owned companies, have joint ventures with Venezuela’s military industry, according to “Iran’s Strategic Penetration of Latin America.” PCI is a maker of explosives, ammunition and rocket propellant for missiles. Qods is a maker of unmanned aerial vehicles. Both companies have been sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council under Resolution 1747.


  12. In Part 3 of the series “Havana: The New Art of Making Ruins.”, Bert Corzo states that: “The 2002 census data shows that of the new housing units built between 1990 and 2002, close to 50,000 were bohíos and adobe structures. The bohío is a primitive dwelling 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.”
    Bohío, photo 2013

  13. So people are people are starting to catch on: Cuba is falling apart, so if the Castristas aren’t getting the fees and all the other money, who is?


    Jose Daniel Ferrer Twitter account statement “They tell me that Ernesto Londoño, of the The New York Times is in Havana. After the slew of editorials about our country, it worries us what he will write. (the rest is in Spanish and you can read it on the link below)


    Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Ernesto Londoño is joining the editorial board of The New York Times, editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal announced in a newsroom email this afternoon. In his new role, Mr. Londoño, who covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Arab Spring for the Post, will mainly write about foreign affairs, as well as “lots of other stuff.”

    “I’m excited to soon join NY Times as an editorial writer covering foreign affairs; deeply sad to leave the terrific Washington Post,” Mr. Londoño tweeted. “Whether from Washington or overseas, Ernesto has time and again demonstrated an uncanny ability to see stories where the competition did not and to execute those stories with intelligence and grace,” The Washington Post said in a newsroom email announcing Mr. Londoño’s departure. “Through it all, he has distinguished himself as an exemplary journalist and an always generous colleague.”


    THE TAMPA TRIBUNE: Fees for Americans a sore spot in Cuba travel – By Paul Guzzo

    The battle for the Cuban charter flight business out of Tampa International Airport has landed in federal court, exposing what U.S. citizens must pay the secretive Cuban government for use of Havana’s José Martí International Airport.

    The annual total is somewhere between $31 million and $62 million — more than any other nation pays, said one Cuba analyst — enough to make critics question whether the fee is covering actual costs or going to support Cuba’s ruling Castro regime.

    Tampa International Airport, by comparison, received $14.6 million in landing fees during 2014 for flights from airlines based in every nation that lands here.

    On a per-flight basis, the same U.S. plane that pays $275 for landing fees at Tampa International pays up to $24,000 in Havana.

    The cost estimates on U.S.-Cuba flights is based on two factors: the revelation in court documents that landing fees range as high as $148 for each U.S. passenger, coupled with the projection that two-thirds of the 635,000 Americans traveling to the island nation in 2014 are destined for the capital city of Havana.

    The $148 figure is included in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Miami pitting one company that offered flights between Tampa and Cuba against another.

    Miami-based Island Travel & Tours alleges in the suit that Cypress, California-based Cuba Travel Services sets ticket prices artificially low to drive out competition, in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.


  17. ABC NEWS: Bay of Pigs Vet, Families Seek Billions From Cuba – By CURT ANDERSON

    Now, at age 78, Villoldo is fresh off another clash with the Cuban government, this time with a tentative success: He and family members of other two men ? American Bobby Fuller and Cuban Aldo Vera ? each won separate lawsuits in Florida seeking billions of dollars in damages combined from the Cuban government, which defaulted after never responding to the lawsuits.

    “Money to me in this case, it doesn’t mean anything. My family tragedy is sacred ground,” Villoldo said in a recent interview. “I am continuing to fight Castro in a different arena.
    Earlier this year, Manhattan U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled that the Florida decisions must be honored as attorneys for Villoldo and the others try to get at accounts with ties to Cuba held by the 19 banks, including Bank of America, Barclays Bank, Citibank, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase.”The judgments granted by the Florida circuit court in favor of the plaintiffs and against Cuba are entitled to full faith and credit,” Hellerstein wrote in an Aug. 22 order.At stake is as much as $3.5 billion; the families have agreed to share any proceeds they get out of the New York accounts.

    “That’s the battle: Is this Cuba’s money or is this someone else’s money?” Hall said. “This is the green light that opens the door for us.”

    In a nutshell, the money was halted by the Treasury Department as it passed back and forth electronically through the New York banks between entities in Cuba and banks in other countries overseas.

    Based on the rulings so far, Hall estimated more than $20 million could be paid out by the banks within the next six months. Another $20 million to $40 million, he said, could be obtained depending on upcoming legal decisions on precisely when an electronic funds transfer, or EFT, should be considered Cuban property that could be seized.


  18. Yes, N.O., the Castristas and all Socialists with power want more power and a fancy lifestyle. The
    Coming Workers’ Paradise rhetoric is only a smokescreen, “promises” that are pure lies, because there is never any intention of bringing about what they talk about. Note the secrecy about the personal lives of the Kims, Castros, El Maburro and so on…

  19. sandokan: Lack of Capital…the most important source of funds that Cuba is not tapping is the IMF, but, the IMF wants to tell countries that borrow how much they can spend and how the borrowing country allocate funds in their budget. This is a form of colonialism that only serves the Rich countries of the World’s interest. The United States, being a major contributor to the IMF, influences IMF policies regarding borrowing and as long as the United States keep in their books the law of regime change in Cuba, it makes no sense to go that route for Cuba…going slow with the reforms is not only being carried out because of wanting to keep the status quo, it is being done this way to protect Cuba’s sovereignty and independence. Too many people in Cuba are willing to surrender to the Rich nations for the sake of more access to internet, food, and conveniences. The American worker has surrender to the Rich controlling our institutions and heavily influencing our government in their favor. The results has being 46 years of declining standards of living and greater inequality. Cuba surrendering completely to the Rich countries in the World, particularly to the United States will have similar results in Cuba. American Corporations have more capital in their coffers than Cuba and all its People together. International Law does not deter them from “sucking” the resources of a country and putting back into the island less than they take. They are more than willing to provide the local population with their products and services, but, they want the right to own your land. The United States Oil Corporations took the rights to the land and mineral rights including oil in Mexico making the Mexican People completely dependent on the United States. They interfere in Mexican internal affairs at will. The Mexican People have lost their ability to choose their own destiny. This can happen to Cuba, once again. Cuba cannot give up its independence and sovereignty for the sake of better economic conditions.

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