Cuba: The Sand Generation

He shares the surveillance of the cars with a friend who takes care of his position so that, from time to time, he runs a race to take a client to his house. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 24 September 2022 — As I adjust my helmet, he tells me that he is 29 years old and has an ulcer. I get on the back of the motorcycle and we head down Calle Reina heading to Carlos III. The Belascoaín traffic light forces us to a stop, where he tells me that he was born in the middle of the Special Period and that he is part of what he has called “the sand generation.” “We were the children who grew up without milk and without toys,” he adds, just as the green light gives way to the wide avenue.

He has tried almost everything to survive: “I worked as a waiter in a state cafeteria; I was a house-to-house distributor for the weekly packet; I got a job at a gas station but I didn’t last long there; I let myself be carried away by the dream of working in the Mariel Special Development Zone but that quickly deflated; I was a coachman in Old Havana; and finally I ended up in El Trigal Market.” We are already arriving at Zapata Street and a close trust – as if we had known each other all our lives – marks our conversation.

“But I can’t leave this country because I have my mother and my grandmother here, I know that if I ‘go out to see the volcanoes’ I will never see them again.”

“At first the idea of ​​El Trigal was good,” he confesses. “I bought bananas from the farmer for 80 centavos in pesos and sold them to the customers, who were mostly paladares [private restaurants] and cafeterias, for 1.50.” But El Trigal market, a prototype of what could be extended throughout the island to eliminate obstacles to agricultural trade, ended up collapsing. “One day we arrived and we were no longer allowed to buy directly, we had to go through the state company Acopio, which then offered the bananas at 2.50 CUP [Cuban pesos] and there was no business for us to sell them.”

The tower of the Plaza de la Revolución is on the left as we cross part of La Timba. “I had to leave there and I started driving an electric tricycle to offer my services to the self-employed who went to buy at the Mercabal on 26th Street, but that was dying little by little and now it is closed and without anything to sell… Nor do I have the health to continue in that job, which involved carrying a lot of weight and I have a herniated disc and hip problems.”

“I started driving an electric tricycle to offer my services to the self-employed who went to buy at the Mercabal on 26th Street.” (14ymedio)

Now, he makes a living parking cars outside a Havana store. He shares the work of keeping an eye on the cars with a friend who steps in for him, so that, from time to time, he can speed off to take a customer home. “It doesn’t pay much but at least I have a job, most of my friends are at home with their arms crossed because they can’t find anything.”

We can already see Tulipán street, without traffic at that time of the afternoon, and the young man comments: “It’s just that, as I told you, we are made of sand, we are disarming ourselves.” We turn and he continues: “But I can’t leave this country because I have my mother and grandmother here, I know that if I ‘leave to go look at the volcanoes’ I will never see them again.” The train station, with its empty rails and platforms, is the scene of his harshest comment: “I don’t want to have children here, but I can’t emigrate either, so it seems that my family ends with me.”

In front of my concrete block he says goodbye. I get off the bike and hand him back his helmet. I see him go away and out of sight as if the breeze from my street had finished disseminating the grains of sand that he had still managed to retain inside his shirt.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Of Spontaneous Leadership and Popular Protests in Cuba

“Let us do with our lives what we want,” demands the shirtless man in the center, before the strict faces of officials and police in El Cepem, Artemisa. (Screen capture)
14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 31 August 2022 — A shirtless man stands up to officials and police to prevent them from confiscating the rafts with which a group of residents of El Cepem, Artemisa, want to get out of the Cuban “socialist paradise.” A woman sits in front of her phone in Santiago de Cuba and launches an acid criticism against stores that only take payment in foreign currency. An old man walks the streets of San Antonio de los Baños shouting slogans against president Miguel Díaz-Canel. Hours before those actions, no one would have believed that either would become a leader, no one would have singled them out as ringleaders of the outrage on this Island.

For decades, Cubans have been waiting for anointed protagonists who will confront power directly and, in the style of Joan of Arc, come to immolate themselves if necessary for the cause of all. Waiting for these bold and magnetic messiahs, many citizens have parked their own civic actions. The demands from outside and within the national borders for these determined and authoritarian caudillos to appear, feared by the ruling party and loved by the people, fascinating and good orators, have also delayed change in this country.

However, life has shown that the leader emerges where forced by circumstances, that the leading role passes from one to another as reality dictates. That momentary chief is the biggest headache right now for the Cuban regime, which, when it finishes putting out the flame of rebellion in one area of ​​the country, another more sophisticated and stronger popular fire appears. In El Cepem, a poor community near El Salado beach, Castroism faced another problem this Monday, its own lack of charismatic figures and solutions to national problems.

A man, with a speech that borders on the philosophical heights, and whose address lacks a single obscenity, has struck the Cuban system to the heart. “If they don’t want us, because we are an illegal community, if we don’t fit in this country because our wages are not enough to buy in hard currency stores, if there is no oil for the thermoelectric plants to work,” then “let us do with our own lives whatever we want,” demands this father of an eight-month-old baby in front of the strict faces of officials and police.

Microphone in hand, while another resident of El Cepem holds the speaker on his shoulder through which his flat and firm voice is heard, this man displays all the arts of a true leader: he summons, unites, protects and confronts those who want  to do harm to his group, his neighborhood. What is his name? Where did he learn all those truths that he shoots like argumentative arrows, accurate and irrefutable? It is not necessary to know. The political police will now invent a past for him that is tailored to the campaigns to assassinate his reputation, to which they have appealed so often for more than 60 years. But, for a few minutes, he was the undisputed leader of national despair.

Let’s stop waiting for “the voice.” Any of us, at any given moment, can be chief, director, rector, general or president.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Flames Go Out in Matanzas but the Drama Continues in Cuba

In the face of each tragedy, the questions pile up and the detailed results of the investigations are rarely published. (Prensa Latina)
14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 12 August 2022 — The sky has turned blue again over Havana and in the city of Matanzas the flames at the Supertanker Base no longer rise on the horizon. However, the tragedy is still ongoing and the questions we all ask ourselves remain unanswered. Why did the lightning rod system not work? Who ordered taking inexperienced young people from the Military Service to try to stop the flames? What is the magnitude of the environmental disaster that this incident has left?

In the face of each tragedy, the questions pile up and the detailed results of the investigations are rarely published. With the plane crash that occurred in May 2018, barely any generalities were offered about its cause and we had to settle for a vague official statement that placed responsibility for the accident on the crew. We are still waiting for the report from the experts on the explosion at the Saratoga hotel from more than three months ago, nor is there any realistic analysis of how many lives were lost on this island for not accepting, at the worst moment of the pandemic, the covid-19 vaccines from the Covax fund.

The regime’s lack of transparency is matched only by its ineptitude. The mix of secrecy and inefficiency in this system is proving deadly for Cubans. The violation of the minimum security protocols, the triumphalism that makes one believe that it is possible to achieve certain goals when the minimum conditions to do so do not exist, and the stubbornness of carrying out projects “at whatever price is necessary” take lives every day in this country. Lives for which no one is responsible because the impunity of those responsible for ending them is absolute.

Unfortunately, this type of disaster will become increasingly common in Cuba, because the inefficient and centralized model imposed six decades ago cannot properly manage the challenges posed by our reality. They make up the figures, tidy up the press headlines, inflate productivity reports, skip security measures to shorten the time to undertake a work, blame third parties for their bungling, and shield themselves in their power so as not to pay for so many catastrophes they themselves provoke with their dismal performance.

It’s not just about reinforcing infrastructure, improving protection against lightning strikes, better handling cargo in an aircraft hold, or thoroughly checking a hotel’s gas supply line. The most important thing to preserve our lives is to eliminate this system as soon as possible and get so many incapable and untouchable leaders out of their seats.

It was not a lightning strike that caused the Matanzas disaster, but rather the lethal essence of this broken and cruel system.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

A Monday of Anguish in Havana

We can’t even say that it was dawn in the city because the horizon was a dark smudge this morning. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 8 August 2022 — My sore throat woke me up. I went to the bathroom to gargle and looked out the window. An eerie glow was visible in the sky to the east. The fire at the Matanzas Supertanker Terminal, which started last Friday, is not something that can only be seen on television screens or through social networks. It is also here, in Havana, where a dark cloud, with the residue of the combustion, covers the city while people search for answers they cannot find.

My dog ​​Chiqui raises her snout and hides her tail between her paws before hiding under the sofa. My mother calls me because she has to go outside and she doesn’t know what precautions to take. I tell her to wear a mask and to avoid at all costs getting wet in the rain if there is a downpour. In the background the official television report sounds, showing party leaders in a meeting in an air-conditioned room and some announcers who avoid precise words at all costs. “Explosion” or “alarm” is not said, nor are the words “danger” or “threat” pronounced.

They are two parallel realities. While in the microphones there is talk of overcoming and resisting, in my neighborhood people raise their eyes and fear. We can’t even say that it was dawn in the city because the horizon was a dark smudge this morning. My eyes burn and when a ray of sunlight manages to cross the clouds, a strange, almost ghostly golden line is projected on the floor of the balcony. My head throbs and I try to drink as much water as I can; yes, from that we have collected before the start of the fire, because the rains may have contaminated the reserves between Saturday and today.

I review my list of the most fragile people I know in this situation. The old lady on the corner who had to stand in line at dawn to buy bread, the friend who has a small plot of vegetables and fears that so much waste in the air will end up on that food, and if he can’t sell it he won’t have the money to support his family, and the mother with a son in the Military Service whose heart is in suspense because her boy could be sent to the disaster area, even if he lacks the experience and age to face the monster of fire.

I never believed that this system’s capacity for disaster could reach such a point, that mismanagement, violation of security protocols, laziness and voluntarism would take us to these limits. As an optimist by nature, I thought that even the official bungling had a limit or a circumscribed margin of effect, that they could not harm so many people in such a short time. I was wrong. This system is lethal. Its ineptitude kills and kills many. The sky of my city today is screaming those truths.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

“Hey, You Can’t Go Through Here!” a Guard From the ‘People’s House’ Yelled at Me

This place almost every Havanan has a memory, is now exclusive to officials and guards. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 30 July 2022 — I pick up the pace. The shared taxi I just got out of was going “at a snail’s pace” and if I don’t take longer strides I’ll be late for my appointment. I cross the Parque de La Fraternidad, I cross the street at full speed with a path that is still closed and leads to the ruins of the Hotel Saratoga, and I enter fully into the gardens of the Havana Capitol building. “Hey, you can’t go through here!” a stern-faced guard yells at me, adding: “You have to go on the sidewalk, it’s forbidden to go through this area!”

They are the same gardens where I practiced as a child with my first skates, the esplanade dotted with vegetation where I sat with my friends to imagine a future that most of them ended up realizing in another part of the world, and the space where Reinaldo waited for me for five hours 30 years ago, in a show of perseverance that sealed that incipient relationship. In other words, this place where almost every Havanan has a memory is now exclusive to officials and guards.

They are the same gardens where I practiced as a child with my first skates, the esplanade dotted with vegetation where I sat with my friends to imagine a future that most of them ended up realizing in another part of the world. (14ymedio)

Although I am in a hurry, I decide to question the man about that prohibition. “Isn’t this Parliament? Isn’t Parliament the People’s House? Why are its gardens off-limits to the people?” separated by several meters from the gleaming facade of a building that was humiliated for decades with neglect, carelessness and official insults. Now, already repaired and with a layer of gold leaf on the dome, the regime has gone from rejecting it to monopolizing it.

I’m already running late for my appointment, so I walk away from the Capitol, its dour guard and its exclusive gardens, while I think about the sensation I felt the first time I left Cuba. It was like an uneasiness that made me fear that in any public square or monument a policeman would come out to tell me that taking a picture with that sculpture, getting too close to that casing or touching that ancient piece of stone was a crime. After days without the uniformed man appearing to scold me, I relaxed and took off the heavy burden of waiting for the whistle, the shout or the fine for my behavior.

Yesterday, Friday morning, I longed for that lightness, when I couldn’t cross the manicured but censored gardens of my own city’s Capitol.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘I Buy Food!’ The Desperate Cry That Went Unanswered in Havana

This Tuesday morning the thick voice of a town crier rang around our building. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 July 2022 — Proclamations recorded and broadcast through loudspeakers are part of the musical band of the Cuban reality of this century. In our neighborhood, a wide variety of them are heard every day, ranging from the already classic “Ice cream sandwiches!” through “I fix mattresses!” to the surprising “I buy empty shampoo bottles!” To these we can add that the current economic crisis is giving birth to its own oral announcements.

This Tuesday morning a thick voice swept through the surroundings of our building. “I buy food!” the man repeated for long minutes as he walked around the block. In other times, the noise from nearby Boyeros Avenue might not have allowed us to hear it from the higher floors of this rough concrete block, but the lack of fuel has reduced the traffic and its constant hubbub, so that announcement was heard “clarito clarito” [loud and clear]. “I buy food!” slipped through the blinds and the balconies.

For half an hour, that peculiar crier moved from the nearby train tracks to the mountain of garbage that has been growing for weeks on the corner of Estancia and Santa Ana. He made a stop at the nearest twelve-story building, repeated his shouts a few yards from the wide parking lot of the Ministry of Agriculture, approached those who were lining up for the rationed products at the bodega, and finally the desperate notice faded little by little as the man headed towards Tulipán Street.

During that time, no one responded to his cries. No neighbor looked out over the balcony to tell him, like others who shout their merchandise or his services, to wait for him to come down right now to sell him some bread, a bag of potatoes or a liter of yogurt. They didn’t even tell him to shut up from the apartments where they were trying to get a baby to fall asleep or where a grandmother was nodding off on the balcony. Nor did the “hardened” militants of the Communist Party show up to combat that phrase, which was more rebellious than any opposition slogan.

“I buy food!” he repeated, and the silence of the neighborhood spoke without uttering a word. From the silence that came out of the houses a clear answer could be extracted: “We don’t have any!”


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Remember Sri Lanka

Takeover of the presidential palace by Sri Lankan protesters. (EFE/EPA/Chamila Karunarathene)
14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 15 July 2022 – “What we need here is Sri Lanka,” “Remember Sri Lanka,” and “We’ll see you at the pool… like in Sri Lanka,” are some of the phrases Cubans are using right now to greet their friends. The mention of the Asian nation is not accidental: after several weeks of protests, thousands of people entered the luxurious residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and forced him to flee the country.

For months, the protesters denounced the mismanagement by the Sri Lankan Executive of the economic crisis, long power cuts and inflation, three evils that also fuel outrage on this island. It is enough to read the reports of foreign press agencies accredited in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s major city, to easily find the coincidences between the discomfort of its residents and the weariness that is heard in every Cuban corner.

In our case, the allusions to Sri Lanka are also a form of social self-criticism, recognizing that in the face of inefficiency and crisis there are people who choose to pack their bags and remain silent, while others go to the house of those responsible for so much disaster and force them to resign. Nor is it the first time that we Cubans have made use of the parallels offered by other geographies to denounce our situation and, incidentally, evade censorship.

A few years ago, the monologue The Problems in Cyprus, performed by the humorist Nelson Gudín, alias El Bacán de la Vida, became a sharp metaphor for our Island. Taking the headlines of the official press, given to reporting political problems and economic in other latitudes while silencing the national ones, the artist used that point in the eastern Mediterranean as a synonym for “Cuba.”

After his excellent performance, which was requested wherever he appeared, it was enough to say “how bad things are in Cyprus” for all of us to understand that he was talking about our own reality. Until today, in the popular speech of this Island there have been several phrases that allude to the Cypriot situation and that feed the surprise of some foreign students who come to practice Spanish in our country and do not understand the reason for this closeness with Nicosia.

Sri Lanka has now been assumed as a dream mirror, as a symbol of the power of a people when united and also as a verbal joke to warn the olive-green hierarchs that no palace full of comforts is safe when the citizen’s anger is overflows. Nor is the water of the presidential pool enough to quench the annoyance accumulated for decades, nor can the stately beds, with their soft pillows, calm a massive protest.

“See you in Sri Lanka,” a neighbor yelled at me yesterday from across the street. “We are all Sri Lankans,” I replied, while some children who passed by on bicycles also repeated the name of a country that a few weeks ago was barely mentioned in Cuba.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuba: 11J (July 11th), the Day We Swallowed Our Fear

A group of demonstrators in Havana during the protests on July 11, 2021. (Marcos Evora)
14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 11 July 2022 — No one foresaw it, no analyst included it in their forecasts, and even the most optimistic had put aside, years ago, the possibility of a popular protest in Cuba. “People have gotten used to it,” “young people prefer to jump into the sea than to demonstrate in a plaza,” “their civic-mindedness has been amputated,” “they have become meek and docile,” were some of the phrases repeated to us from all sides, but the day of 11 July 2021 was enough to destroy all those diagnoses that made us seem like a people unable to raise our voices.

That Sunday morning, the spark did not even catch fire in the two largest cities in the country, but in the streets of San Antonio de los Baños, in the province of Artemisa, a community that until then we associated in our minds with the Ariguanabo River, a good-humored town with its international film school and long blackouts. The first images of the popular outrage reached us through Facebook and Twitter, but our own skepticism dampened the enthusiasm and many of us thought that it was just something momentary and small.

Then the demand spread through Palma Soriano in Santiago de Cuba, Cárdenas in Matanzas, different points of Havana and many other regions. What no one had predicted was happening. For many, that was one of the most important days of their lives, to the point that everyone on this Island remembers what we were doing when the demonstrations began. Like the day a child is born to us, a parent dies or a natural catastrophe occurs, 11J has left a mark on our lives.

And then came the repression pushed and propelled by Miguel Díaz-Canel and the “combat order” that he issued before the cameras of national television, a summons that could one day take him before a court to be tried for inciting violence and launching the military against unarmed people. Not only did we see the uniformed officers viciously beat young people and teenagers, but also the official press – which had initially been left without a script and did not know how to react to the people in the streets – begin to try to create a different story, one parallel to the reality.

In that narrative, dictated by the Plaza de la Revolución, the protests were small, violent, carried out by criminals, vandals and the marginalized. To impose this fiction they appealed to the monopoly of television, radio and printed newspapers, but the truth of 11J had already crept into the retinas of millions of people thanks to social networks and the independent press. In the images that came out of hundreds and thousands of mobile phones, we can see a citizenry that once again, after being gagged for decades, proves its civic voice. It was the day we swallowed our fear, chewed it for a long time and realized that we, the dissatisfied, greatly outnumbered the repressors.

After those bright hours, in which the protests showed their libertarian and massive character, the long night of repression arrived, and we continue under it now. But it is enough to remember that Sunday last summer to conclude that Cubans are no longer the same. We have shouted in the streets, we have chanted freedom and we have shown the world that we are neither cowards nor bowed down, just that a calculated dictatorship has prevented us from taking our places for a long time. The next outbreak will also be neither announced nor predictable, but it may be the last time the regime can crush the unrest and respond with punches, gunshots and trials. On 11J we also learned that fear changed sides.


Editor’s Note: This text was originally published in DW in Spanish.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In the Absence of Present Solutions, Today’s Cuban Regime is a Caricature of Republican Era Cuba

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 29 June 2022 — As popular indignation grows due to the continuous power outages that affect a large part of Cuba, the authorities deploy all kinds of justifications to place the responsibility for the blackouts as far as possible from their own management. There is no shortage of repeated phrases blaming the US embargo, the damage caused by the fall of communism in Europe and, of course, the allusions to Cuba’s former Republican period as a dark and miserable time.

Camagüey’s local newspaper, Adelante, has tried to placate its readers this week by reminding them that before 1959 “Cuba only generated 397 megawatts, 397,000 kilowatts, distributed in isolated systems, not interconnected, typical of an underdeveloped country. Only 56% of the population was connected to electrical service. Data that must be put in the context that electrification was a process that had only been implemented worldwide for a few decades.

The article in the Camagüeyan newspaper not only hides that detail, but also avoids saying that Cuba’s electrification was one of the best in Latin America in those years. The article seeks to create in the audience a sense of relief in the face of current problems if they are compared with the situation that their grandparents experienced. A rhetorical trick that is less and less effective in a society tired of attempts to instill fear through the past. In the absence of solutions in the present and progress in the future, the Cuban regime can only be a caricature of the country that existed before Fidel Castro came to power.

With this clumsy strategy they managed for decades to silence democratic demands, assuring that an opening process on the Island would bring back the excesses of the previous dictatorship. When the demands have turned to the inefficiency of the economic model to produce the most basic foods, the official spokesmen come out to recall the corn flour, without any accompaniment, that typified the national dishes during the Machadato.*There are public officials who have even dared to say that a dissident or independent journalist would work as a prostitute if she lived in Cuba in the first half of the 20th century.

All this verbal juggling, which once could generate fear and social paralysis, now reaps ridicule and ends up adding fuel to the fire of social annoyance. People have stopped hanging their heads and shutting up when one of those old stats is thrown at them. Only a system without a tomorrow can believe that it is going to break an entire population by taking the ghosts of yesterday out for a walk.

*Translator’s note: The term ‘Machadato’ refers to Gerardo Machado’s increasingly repressive years as Cuban president (1925-33) overlapping with the worldwide ‘Great Depression’ which began in 1929.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The De-balconization of Havana

Unlike the German city of Berlin, the de-balconization that Havana has been suffering has not been due to the projectiles of war. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 18 June 2022 — A German academic was especially happy when his friends came to visit and he was able to give them an insightful tour of Berlin. The history of the gradual loss of the balconies suffered by the area of ​​the city that had come under communist control after the Second World War was never missing in those journeys. The impact of the bombs during the conflict, the tendency to wall up those parts of the building instead of rebuilding them when peace came, and a socialist architecture more oriented towards the practical than the beautiful, led to the “de-balconization” of the GDR capital.

After recounting everything that happened in great detail, the German professor pronounced that peculiar concept in his own language. After a breath, he began to detail how after the fall of the Berlin Wall the reverse process began, the “re-balconization” of the city. At that moment, he made a stop and confirmed that it was only when he explained that architectural detail of his country’s history that he could use that word. On no other occasion did that term pass his hips, hence he was doubly grateful to his patient listeners for the opportunity to shake up his vocabulary.

Unlike the German city, the de-balconization that Havana has been suffering has not been due to the projectiles of war. Laziness, lack of maintenance and the material indigence of the owners of many buildings have caused this architectural element to be lost between collapses, cracks and shoring. It is becoming more and more common to see facades with exposed pieces of steel that once supported a beautiful terrace projecting outwards.

The Cuban capital has lost its balconies, but it has also been losing its cornices and the flowery capitals of many columns. (14ymedio)

But missing are not only the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of balconies that have fallen onto the streets, and onto the heads of passers-by or the lower floor apartments, but many others are closed or never used due to the inhabitants’ fear that they will collapse if someone peeks out through them. What was once an element of entertainment and pleasure for the dwellers of the home and a treat for the eyes of pedestrians, is now a cause for widespread panic. People fear these vantage points pierced by cracks, moisture and mold.

The Cuban capital has lost its balconies, but it has also been losing its cornices and the flowery capitals of many columns. In streets where before you could walk without leaving the covered portals, now the route is interrupted by the collapse of the roofs that force you to get off the sidewalk and continue on a zigzagging route. To this we must add that most of the buildings that were built during the Soviet subsidy period dispensed with that detail so important in a tropical country, a balcony. Gray walls, small windows and not even an area to hang clothes is the harsh reality experienced in most of these post-Revolution concrete blocks.

I dream of the day when my academic friend visits Havana again and this  whole nightmare of deterioration is just a bad memory from the past. I will surely explain to him how democracy not only meant being able to say what you think without being punished, but also promoted the construction of houses, attracting back to the country so many talented émigré architects who designed cooler houses that take better advantage of the maritime breeze, and at the same time do not make their inhabitants feel as if they were locked in a matchbox. At that moment, I am going to enjoy telling him that the re-balconization of the city where I was born has already begun. It will possibly be one of the few times that I will be able to pronounce that word.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.