My New, Old Home in Havana

Daisy Valera

Hallway of the the building I just moved into.

HAVANA TIMES — I hear someone yell in the hallway: “We’re all working class here, the State can’t come along and tell me I can’t replace the window frame!” I make a mental note: class-conscious neighbors? Not possible.

I continue to move back and forth with my belongings over the distance separating point A (a beat-up, green Moskvitch car) and point B (the door to my new apartment).

I feel exhausted, as though I’ve gone through this same business a hundred times (even though there’s ninety-four moves to go before I can say that).

I once again got the unexpected notice that I had to leave the apartment I had been renting.

The anxiety, once again.

Telling everyone I know and don’t know on my phone book about this and hearing jokes, such as: “So, what bridge should I look under to find you now?”

Crossing my fingers and doing a foreseeably fruitless search on, where no flat is rented for less than 80 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) a month.

Getting frustrated because no municipal, provincial or national institution publishes a list of such ads for “low-income people.”

Finding discouraging options consisting in rooms turned into homes, where bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms are cheekily fused into a single space (without this spelling a discount of any kind).

Details of my apartment/room.

Finally getting the reassuring call from a friend, who has a friend and that friend an acquaintance interested in renting their apartment (which is necessarily old, owing to the ridiculously low sum I can afford to pay).

I am now settling in one of the small apartments of a building built in the mid-20th century, slowly adapting myself to the songs by Beny More and Tejedor that a tenant living on the fourth floor likes to share with the entire neighborhood.

My new, old home smells of dead things, mainly flowers and cockroaches. It is a small, damp, yellowish cave with rough floors, where the building’s metallic skeleton pokes out here and there.

The best thing about the place is the old things carelessly left behind by the owners:

There’s the photo of a teenage member of Cuba’s 1960s literacy campaign brigades, with a dedication (“to my mother Elda, with love. Fela”), two paintings showing Japanese musicians and one showing a square in Toledo, Spain, half of a set of dishes with the seal of the US Navy’s medical department, an ancient X-100 ColorTrak RCA television (according to the owner, it blows up if you plug it in), a small chest of drawers, a cushioned little bench and a mirror that evokes distant and elaborate make-up sessions and, finally, the objects that symbolize the poverty of recent decades: cutlery with plastic handles and a nylon poster showing deer, posing like cheap Bambi imitations.

And then there’s me, beside myself with joy. How could I not be happy, living in Havana, where problems like being forced to live with one’s relatives, collapsing buildings and the hoarding of properties by the few who have the needed capital to do so, continue to spread like wildfire?

5 thoughts on “My New, Old Home in Havana

  • First of all, those people in Canada and the US do not actually own their own homes. Mortgage banks extend fractional-reserve credit to home buyers, and this credit extension is money newly created, on the basis of the mortgagee’s future earning potential.

    The banks pretend they are loaning out of their own monetary property, and charge a time-based rental fee, called “interest,” on it. This is fraudulent in the extreme, and home buyers may pay triple or quadruple, over twenty or thirty years, in unjust interest.

    The bank pockets almost all of the interest paid as profit, thereby stealing a goodly portion of the take-home pay of home buyers. A $300,000 mortgage may yield an interest profit to the mortgage bank in the neighborhood of $600,000-$900,000. This is outright robbery, but under monopoly-capitalism it is perfectly legal.

    Meanwhile, the $300,000 in electronically-created principal, which was extended to the mortgagee, disappears on the bank’s ledger as it is “repaid”. It cannot be retained, either as profit or as the bank’s recovered monetary property, because it exited only in the economy as a legal devise for the bank to be a parasite on the home buyer’s wages or salary. If it did not disappear, the bank would be guilty of counterfeiting.

    Second, US states charge home buyers property taxes. In many states, these are enormous. Also, they make states the de facto home owners, with the legal home owners paying de facto rent. In my home state of California, a $300,000 house might force a home “owner” to pay the CA state around $500 per month in property taxes. This makes the home owner a serf of the state–in addition to being a serf and the mortgagee bank.

    Third, if the home buyer loses his or her job and cannot pay the monthly mortgage, the bank forecloses and resells the house or condo. The money received for the resell becomes cashed-out equity for the bank, and this equity does not disappear from the bank’s ledger. This allows the bank to “launder” the unjust exploitation of the home buyer.

    Your candy-coated concept of home ownership in the US and Canada, Griffin, is not what you make it out to be. The American and Canadian dream of home ownership is more a nightmare of exploitation and broken hopes. You seem to be in the business of falsifying reality, in order to make the Cuban people believe the monster of monopoly-capitalism is a benign Santa Claus.

    I have no idea of what the reality is in Lithuania and Bulgaria, but I do know what it is in the US. Your depiction is utterly false.


  • Many people own their own homes in Canada (68.4%) and the US (65.4%). Lithuania and Bulgaria have the highest home-ownership rates, over 97%.

  • Hi Daisy, thanks for a candid, albeit a rather depressing, share. It is clear that the problems of the people under US-style private-monopoly-capitalism, and Cuban-style state-monopoly-socialism, are similar.

    What is needed in any country, of course, is for citizens to own their own homes, whether houses or apartments. This would be the case under “authentic” socialism.

  • Did you miss that last sentence, John?

    “How could I not be happy, living in Havana, where problems like being forced to live with one’s relatives, collapsing buildings and the hoarding of properties by the few who have the needed capital to do so, continue to spread like wildfire?”

  • Daisy,
    Thanks for that view of Cuban life not usually afforded by the media in the United States .
    Reports/posts like yours are the reason I always recommend HT to people who might be interested in objective views of life in Cuba when all we get in the States is based on what is most accurately described as a consistent and continuing parroting of State Department propaganda in the U.S. corporate media.

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