During my recent trek to Cuba in December 2018, visiting the Regla community of Havana was part of my itinerary. I had talked about Regla with one of my friends, Katia De Llano Cuesta who mentioned she was raised there. As a matter of fact she mentioned once Cuba abolished slavery, the community was established as a settlement for former slaves.
Luckily, one of my journalist contacts, Yusimi Rodriguez agreed to take me there so as I settled in for the short boat-ferry from Old Havana to Regla my expectations were to simply get a glimpse of the environment. Yusimi explained as best she could what she knew about Regla. She also mentioned the eye-opening interview she had completed several years ago with a lady and her family. Luckily, she telephoned the lady and she agreed to meet us at the community square. Through Yusimi I was introduced to Kirenia and her son. The significance of the article is it highlights a sliver of the lives of the many who are impoverished, yet cling onto survival in very tenuous conditions..
**It is published verbatim from the original article but during translation some of the grammar and other communication may need to be corrected.
PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION
In waiting of Housing
La Habana, Cuba
On Tuesday, March 10, I was interviewed by Robert Siegel (National Public Radio, USA). His main interest was to know about racial inequality, a topic that is almost always difficult to explain to foreigners, who come with the idea that the Cuban Revolution eliminated racism and gave equal opportunities to whites, mestizos and blacks to access studies and jobs.
To deny this would not be fair or truthful, but to affirm that there is no racism or racial inequality would be tantamount to contradicting even our own government, which has already (reluctantly) recognized these problems in our just and socialist society. However, when you explain it, and more, show it, while you pass through a tourist area of Old Havana, surrounded by hotels, buildings like postal cards, and tourists, it was difficult.
I still do not know why the interviewer wanted us to cross the Havana Bay in the little boat and go to Regla, a Havana neighborhood that I had not visited since 2002, when I accompanied my mother to church. I was ashamed that perhaps, I knew less of Regla than Siegel and his companions: a girl who handled the microphones, the producer and the Cuban translator.
We had just crossed one of the doorways of the church, when a pregnant woman came over us (I later learned that her name is Kirenia). You are from Canal Habana? Come on, what you have to film is there. [We pointed out what happened to be a shelter. I’ve been living there for five years, but I’m social since I was 11. I was 32 years old.
I had to disappoint her. I was not from Canal Habana. Those who accompanied me were not Cubans and were not there because of her and her problems. Anyway, we crossed and Siegel had the opportunity to listen to her story and that of others housed … for an indefinite time, as well as to see the inside of others housed … for an indefinite period, as well as to see the inside of, some of the very narrow cubicles with traces of humidity and cracks in the walls, provided with barbecues to gain a little space. That Kirenia led us to the pool served perhaps to show Siegel what I could not on the other side of in Bahia: all the people we saw in that pool were black.
However, you felt that it was not enough that those stories were shown as part of an article in which others were the protagonists, and I promised Kirenia and her mother Santa that she would return. I had taken more than a month to fulfill my promise I am almost certain that Santa although she recognized me only when she saw me, she was surprised.
In Cuba there is no eviction
The cubicle furniture consists of three small chairs, one for the fan. Santa has to remove it to be able to sit down. She tells me that Kirenia is hospitalized with pneumonia.
Santa: : It has rained and there is a lot of humidity. But her pregnancy is not in danger. They had her in intensive care and they already passed her to the ward.
YR : Tell me what happened in 1993, when your daughter was 11 years old.
Santa: As far as I know, in Cuba there is no eviction.
YR: The Cuban Revolution agreed with that.
Santa: Well, in my house the police got in with (the administration) of housing and they collapsed everything. What my daughter always tells and has never been erased from her mind is that when she woke up, the first thing she saw was heaven. As a roof, the sky.
YR: Where were you?
She hesitates, looks down, but ends by confessing that she was imprisoned for six months. Her mother took care of Kirenia and her younger brother, but at that time she was not in the house either. When she returned, she found the girl in the street crying.
Santa: My daughter has letters that they made to me in prison as a social case; the same day I left the pass, I arrived and found everything in the street, the shop window going to waste … I had three days pass, but I was so traumatized that between that same day.
YR: Why did they demolish the house? Was it in poor condition, uninhabitable?
Santa: It was made of wood, but it was not in bad condition, it was new. They sent her to lie down. In itself, I do not know who, I already told you where you were. When I arrived, I did not find my mother, my children. Everything was on the street, showcase, clothes …… ..
YR: It will not be that those who made the demise did not know that someone speaks inside the house?
Santa: If they knew it, but they knocked down the roof first and then took out the little girl, who was the only one in the house at that moment.
YR: And your youngest son?
Santa: He was with his paternal grandmother.
YR: Where was the father, the husband of you?
Santa: He also had problems. I was pregnant and I lost a girl. They gave me a cesarean and were born well, but later they did not bring it to me and when they asked I was told that the baby had died.
I got sick and left the hospital under my responsibility, with security points. When I was here, the Sector Chief came and asked about my husband, who was working. He said that he would leave the summons to go to the Unit the next day. I was wrong and asked her to leave it on the television, but I forgot to give it to my husband and the next day he went to work. In the evening the Sector Chief came with another policeman. They messes up with to my husband; I tried to explain that I had lost my daughter and I had forgotten to give him the summons, I asked them not to let him have it because you were alone with the children and recently operated. I lifted my blouse to see. They told me not to get involved.
Santa’s husband was illegally socially dangerous, even though he worked at the Naval Hospital. She agreed that she had not committed any crime. Santa says that six months later I am issued a summons. She was accused of contempt, because that day she had disrespected politics and that’s why she turned six months old. When Santa was released on parole, his mother talked to the girl for the house of another daughter, Santa’s sister, since she was sleeping on the street.
Santa: But it is a very small house. The family from afar can be seen well, but when there is a child … And more if twelve people live in a little piece, you can go to Casablanca. There are the neighbors who will tell you that none of this is a lie. Some people helped my pestle. We sleep on the street, at bus stops, in corridors. Once they blew us even. Kirenia took a staff infection and was hospitalized for four months. They did not count on her.
The Neighbors made us a room
Kirenia: My parents separated when you were two years old and my mother was with me stepfather, father of my younger brother. My stepfather is white and his family very racist. They did not want my mom. My mother lived in Regla and went to live with him in Casablanca, where she made a little wooden house next to her mother-in-law. But some people do not have property, because it is an unhealthy neighborhood. They’ve been without property in their homes for twenty-thirty years. Once they said that anyone who had a bathroom inside the house would give him his supply book and the right to own the house.
They would give him his supply book and the right to own the house, but the mother of my stepfather never I let my mom make a bath. we had to use the bathroom of the crib or urinate in the sink or do the necessities in a paper and throw it away, sometimes in the same grave of the mother of my stepfather
Kirenia does not have a good memory of him: He mistreated my mama a lot. The marks that I have on my forehead are the ones that always buried me.
Kirenia: About two months after my mother was imprisoned, the mother-in-law told my grandmother to give my little brother so that he would not have to work with both of them. He told her that she was his grandmother anyway and lived sideways. My grandmother never thought it was malicious and gave it to her. After two days, he told her that she and you had loved to stay there. We were eleven years old and my mother even paid for the Defense Committee (CDR). She said that we had to leave because all that was her and was authorized by the son, my stepfather, who was in prison, to get us out. My grandmother said I was not going out and we did not go out but we did not have food and a few days later my grandmother told me: I’m going to get up early to go to your aunt’s house in Lawton and get some food; do not let anyone in that I go fast.
She got up at five, and at nine she was back. It seems that they were watching her. Suddenly, someone wakes me up and says: Up we’re going to finish knocking this down. When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was heaven. They took me by force between one dressed in civilian clothes and a policeman that Mendilusa was the head of the unit here in Regla.
Everything that I had was put in the middle of the alley. If you want, I’ll take you to Casablanca so that you can see that this is a lie. Alla all the neighbors take me away. I had to sleep in neighbors’ houses and in work centers. For me, that was an eviction. In the Municipal Housing Directorate (DMV) they made us a file as a social case for not having a home. I’ve been twenty-one years waiting for the solution of the case. I remember we went to the DMV or we were hours and hours. As a dining room talks, they gave us lunch and food.
Later, a neighbor, may God have her in Glory, gave us a piece in her patio so that we could build a room. Among all the neighbors with cardboard, zinc, table, sheets, we made the room. We stayed there until the DMV gave us this shelter cubicle.
YR: You told me that you tried to make television come.
Kirenia: One day I went to the headquarters of the local government and, coincidentally, there was a TV cart parking. I asked them what channel they were, like you, and they told me that Papelito speaks. I told them my case and they told me the address: they told me not to stop going, but honestly … They gave us this right away. I think they saw me talking to the television and they hurried. Besides, I went to Mariela Castro, with all my papers. I did not speak personally with her, but they told me to wait for an answer. It was when someone from the National Assembly came who had to do with construction and that, a tall prisoner. I saw that personally. I told him my case and I wonder if you were Kirenia. Alla I knew he had come for me.
YR: So, they were taken care of.
Kirenia: But not properly, At the beginning they told me that the dossier had been closed and that can only be done in two cases: that they have improved my life status. Nothing of Casablanca and they saw the room without bathroom, with the dirt floor, they realized that it was true what you said and they never let it close. Maybe they gave him the house, I do not know who.
The cubicle consisted of the small square of the room, perhaps a couple of square meters. It did not have a kitchen, but at least it had a bathroom inside. The kitchen plateau was made by his son. In that small space should be located beds for Santa, Kirenia and the girl born, in addition to furniture, television, refrigerator. There was only one bed to locate and where it was located, it got wet.
Kirenia was ruled by pieces of pine. “Some have even termites, I think,” says Santa. With them his son managed to make the barbecue to have a little more space, but the tables are on top. Santa does not sleep upstairs now, because there is a lot of humidity. There is a crack in the wall and the water enters. The mattress I had on the bed got wet and spoiled. She sleeps better, on top of a quilt. Her youngest son is now with her, but I notice that Santa’s conditions are not so bad: she has a refrigerator, a television, a washing machine …
Santa: The TV I pay in installments. I bought the refrigerator from my sister who lives outside and now I could change it for that one, I’m still paying for it. The washing machine was bought by that sister who lives in Norway. When he comes he takes care of us, but he does not send anything. Santa works in a kind of visitor’s house, where judicial officials of Regla, Guanabacoa and Habana Vieja reside. They come from oyster provinces to serve in Havana and are located in that place, Alli, Santa is a general assistant and takes care of cleaning several rooms and serving lunch and food.
Social cases without a supply book
Although they have been in this shelter for more than five years, they have less than one with a supply book. While they lived in the courtyard of the neighbor’s yard, they managed to buy things from the outside and from the neighbors, “who helped us a lot”. Says Kirenia. Santa whispers: “Many neighbors without eating.” To receive the supply book, Kirenia went to the Provincial Housing Directorate. There they told him that his case had no solution because the social cases were not assigned notebook. In OFICODA (Office of food control) they repeated the same thing.
Kirenia: Then I went to the Provincial Assembly of the Poser Popular and entered a letter for the legal adviser. They sent me to another office and the girl there sent me to the Ministry of Internal Commerce (MINCIN). There I presented my problem and I taught the Vice President of the People’s Council. The companion who answered me told me to wait for a response between 30 and 60 days. Approximately twenty days later I received a call to pick up the supply book. Did you see that you can? What you have to press.
YR: In these circumstances have you had your daughters?
Kirenia: I started working in the Regla library and there I met the father of my daughters, 10 and 7 years old, and a boy who was on my way.
They are not together, but as the cubicle is so small and
When will it touch us?
YR: Have you thought of any way to solve the problem, in the alternatives to get out of here? If there are people who take more time, when a housing appears they must have the priority.
Santa: There are people who take more time, but they have given them a house and they have rejected it. Instead of giving it to others who live in this same shelter, they are given to the people of Havana Vieja who reside in the shelter of Bahia.
YR: Maybe those who are there are going through the same time as you and, therefore, it is fair.
Santa: Yes, it can be, but until those from here who have been living longer have no home, it is not up to others. When will it touch us? You asked at the DMV for a loan or a piece of land to raise my house for your own effort, little by little, even if it’s a maera, because a masonry house or think about it How much will it cost? I earn 275 pesos a month and I discount the refrigerator. I suffer from asthma I have two hernias in the stomach, I must buy medicines. The idea of asking for a loan from the bank scares you, because you have to pay back and with interest.
YR: And a subsidy?
Santa: I understand that social cases do not give them subsidy: land, yes, but they have to build with their own efforts.
Sleeping on a sofa to sleep in bed
Santa takes me to the house of another neighbor who agrees to talk with me. Vivian, 61, lives in the shelter eleven years ago. When I entered her cubicle, I realized that the conditions were much better than Santa’s, but she told me right away that everything had been done by her husband. She had several diseases before arriving at the shelter. Here it has been complicated by lack of ventilation and because he smokes. She suffered a cerebral infarction and her husband and son spent a lot of work down the stairs of the barbecue. Now sleep down on the couch.
The house where he lived, in Casa Blanca before coming to this hostel in Regla, was part of a biplanta building that was deteriorating, the floors were rising and, finally, collapses occurred. The house was already uninhabitable; She and her family were registered as sheltered, but in practice they did not go to any shelter for lack of capacity and continued for years in that house. A collapse in the adjoining house opened a hole on the wall with a beam. It could have killed the neighbor’s son if he had been in the crib. “The cradle, the broken one”.
From there, they wrote the Council of State, they went to the Provincial Housing Directorate. “We gave all the steps that one has to take, but nobody heard us.”
A neighbor who worked in shelters I search until I find them when I see them in the situation they were living. Vivian says that nobody went to collect the rubble and had to do it among the neighbors. Her neighbor was sent to another place. Santa adds that others sheltered told that before donations arrived and Vivian confirms it: They gave clothes, but since Santa is here, I have not seen anything. ”
Vivian: As you can see, the one that does not get wet on one side, gets wet on the other, The pipes are dense. I used to call and the brigades came and destroy, but the pipes do not admit it, because they are many years old. You have to change them. Here there are neighbors who do not get water. You have a battery in the bathroom, but the water does not reach me.
When we came here was not the barbacoa, the water rolled and fell because the gutter is tilted. My husband got up and fixed it. Now with the downpour that fell on Wednesday, April 29, the drip falls in the amita of my 32-year-old son, who lives with us. Above are the bed of us and my son’s.
Santa: With the downpour that big one that fell I got water through the ceiling and the floor.
Other neighbors say that they also put the water inside the room. To Vivian, as an exceptional case, for their illnesses, they promised that they will take her out of the shelter for a place with better conditions. “May God put his hand, to see if I achieve, how little or how much I have left to live, stop sleeping on a sofa and sleep in my bed.”
The situation of their neighbors is worrying and Vivian would like that they could also solve their housing problems. “There are many children here and you have to look for them.” A week later, when I returned to the hostel accompanied by the photographer, I knew that Vivian had disturbed the conversation with me and did not want to talk about her situation anymore or be photographed.
I am an extreme social case
Alina Margarita Rodriguez is another hostel from 21 years ago. His house in Regla was in very bad condition and they brought it here. When I enter her room, I have no choice but to sit with her in bed, the only furniture, which occupies almost the entire room barely one meter from the bathroom.
Alina: I am an extreme social case. My 21-year-old boy has two heart diseases and is an asthmatic epileptic, with problems due to respiratory arrest. In any case he became a great mechanic for society.
YR: In 21 years have you been given a home?
Alina: In December they offered me a house in Robles, but since we are seven people, I cannot leave, because I have to give my daughter a part.
YR: Seven people live here inside?
Alina: Here my daughter lives with the children; There I live another daughter with the husband; here my son and I live
The house of Robles has three rooms for seven. Each family would be located in a room. She would continue to share the room with her children. They would sleep in the same bed, because there is no room for another, as now, or one of the two would sleep in the living room, but her daughter wants to have her own apart and she understands it.
YR: Was not it better to take that house and then try to swap it?
Alinca: I already tell you. If we sold it, what would I give to each one? Those houses cannot be sold in both. And to peruse, Robles is far away, in the old road of Guanabacoa.
YR: Had you been offered a house before?
YR: How do you expect to solve the problem?
Alina: The partner of the DMV says that they are going to give me two apartments: one for my daughter with her girl and my other daughter with her husband, and another for my son and me. That’s how I’m getting out of here.
It strikes me that there is no barbecue and confesses that it has been his negligence.
YR: Does not it get wet when it rains?
Alina: Now with the last downpour that fell, my bed got wet.
And I’m dying for this
Alina asks me where the photos are going to come out and she is glad that they are going to share the article that I posted on the Internet
Alina: Everything you can put that is for our benefit, because reality is reality.
I am not counterrevolutionary and I die for this sincerely, but reality is reality. If you live with seven people. Why can not you give me an option?
Alina confessed that relations between neighbors are not the best, but my interviewees seem to have something in common besides the precarious life they share in this shelter: their support for what we call revolution.
Vivian, I affirm that I could not throw a chicharo, unfortunately. When I could, I did it. It has left until outstanding of the CDR. Santa earned her television (which he had to pay in installments) when they were still granted by the CDRs. She haia today the CDR guards, she went to the Plaza to everything …
Alina: What one feels has to say. Among all the neighbors we wrote a letter to the Havana Channel, because the pipes are tight and the water does not enter the piles. That was last year. They told us that they have no budget, there is no money.
Alina tells me that the TV set earned her “with the sweat of her brow”, through the workplace. She was a messenger of the Popular Power and never, with her sick son, they offered her one for the CDR. Alina was also a child circle educator for many years, but now works as a custodian.
Alina: I was going to escape a child from the circle, because of an assistant, and I pulled to catch him so he would not give himself a blow. I fractured my arm and had to be plastered. When they removed the plaster I had very fragile skin and I had to pass paraffin with a brochita. But I had a very hot and third-degree burns. That’s why they decided to take me into custody. I am better, because it is here in front of my house, but the salary does not give.
His brothers, Manuel and Luis Roca Agredo, live in the United States, but Alina does not know about them for a long time. Aspire to read this interview and you can get in touch with her.
They will not pay me for the interview
The first time I was in the shelter with the NPR team, the people I saw and with whom I was able to speak were black. I had the impression that all those who lived here were African descendants, I’m wrong. In the hostel there are 21 cubicles and according to Santa. “There lives a lady who is white, another boy who is also white; the one in the first house is also white, but the rest is in color. ”
Another neighbor showed us her house and explained her situation. This time when Santa and Kirenia tell her that I have returned to write about the sheltered ones, she responds that she is not interested in telling anything: “She says that she will not be paid for the interview,” Kirenia informs me. Far from bothering me, I think he’s right.
I will not pay you, but I cannot guarantee that this interview will have any positive impact on the lives of these people. How many will read it and what would it mean to them? I do not know. I only know that realities like this cannot wait for freedom of press, expression and association to reach Cuba. And that it is not enough with the achievement of these freedoms for these people to get out of the precarious situations in which they live.