Cuba: Till the Shit Do Us Part

“The GDP will grow by more than 4 % this year.” – Raul Castro

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — Garbage collection efforts have entered a higher phase of decline in the Cuban capital. The issue has been touched on numberless times in Havana Times. I want to address it once again to show how the situation has worsened over the past few months and to propose a solution to the problem.

In Alamar, the neighborhood at the outskirts of Havana where I live, the garbage truck used to come by every three or four days, and that was already too little. Nowadays, it comes less than once a week and it’s a genuine disaster. This complicated situation is worsened by the dilapidated state of the garbage containers.

The garbage bins passed through three stages of gradual deterioration.

First they lost their wheels. People with no “social discipline” steal these for their carts or to sell them in the spare-parts market.

Then they lost their lids, which were far too fragile for the daily mistreatment they are subjected to.

Finally, the containers themselves gave way, of old age and exhaustion, I suppose.

Now, the locals leave the garbage on the ground, to the contentment of rats and the merriment of flies. Regular garbage trucks can’t lift the garbage off the ground this way and they have to come get it with a bulldozer and a dump truck.

The spectacle is grotesque, foul-smelling and unhealthy, but, even with the shit up to their necks, the locals don’t move a thumb.


To know what people think about this problem, I read several Havana Times articles and their respective comments. I also asked people around the neighborhood.

What the average Joe or Jane thinks is behind the problem, and how they think it can be solved, can be divided into three major groups. We have:

  1. Those who believe Cubans have become accustomed to living in filth thanks to the revolution.
  2. Those who blame the corrupt bureaucrats and politicians who embezzle fuel and laugh in the face of a community that is completely idiotic (in the Greek sense of the word).
  3. Those who think everything is caused by the US embargo and things of that nature.

All three groups are partially right, but all ignore one crucial factor. From my point of view, the tragedy of Havana’s domestic garbage problem is today closely related to the world economic crisis and the irreversible decline in fossil fuel supplies.

The situation could improve slightly with the lifting of the embargo, but such an improvement would not last long.

Overcoming the garbage problem would be easy with the right mental attitude, but, as it happens, the right mental attitude is sometimes the hardest thing to achieve.

In towns in Cuba’s interior, domestic garbage is taken to small, local dumpsites using horse or ox-drawn carts. During the Special Period, peripheral neighborhoods in the capital resorted to these methods. Why not do so again?

If Cuba’s political leaders publicly admitted that the crisis is NOT temporary, the community would surely wake up from its coma and look for the solutions within reach. But no, this is precisely the time when our leaders have decided to dream of expansion, development, prosperous socialism, investments, free trade zones and privatization.

In all public speeches and addresses, they repeat the same, magic words ad nauseam: “development and growth.” They’ve repeated them so much that they’ve given many people hope.

When a horrible epidemic breaks out, we will finally understand they have lied to us again and again, but by then it will be too late. We will pay for this moment of peaceful alienation before the storm with the lives of our loved ones.

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5 thoughts on “Cuba: Till the Shit Do Us Part

  • Back to the waste issue.It is clear people do not take responsibility because the concept of volunteering has been totally discredited in Cuba. People in Cuba do not see much point in caring for the common good or the environment. Contrary to the WWFs misconception the idea of sustainability is an alien concept in Cuba. Why? They have no stake in society. Compare Miramar with Central Havana. I remember seeing plenty of rubbish at the Baracoa coastline. Would Christopher Columbus still say that Cuba was “The Most Beautiful Land Human Eyes Have Ever Seen”? Hardly! People will change behaviour only when they can see a material benefit. A damming indictment of the Cuban project.

  • Capitalism is an economic system based on market forces. Cuba is not a state capitalist system. There is nothing remotely capitalist about the centrally planned Cuban economy. Cuba has a state socialist system.

  • Disease and Rats. Health hazard, just get it moved and incinerated before it starts to affect the tourist trade, because without the tourist currency all is lost and they might as well put the lights out in Cuba for good. Come on Mr Castro and get this unacceptable problem sorted out, after all you are supposed to be looking after all the interests in Cuba, and Health should be a top priority.

  • Blaming the filth accumulating in the streets in Havana on the US embargo is the height of denial. Anyone who has ever walked down the streets in Havana behind the average Cuban has seen Cubans drain their Tukola can and then toss it in the street. Spend more than a week walking around Central Havana and you will be forced to step over pile after pile of dog poop. “Curbing your dog” doesn’t even translate in Cuban Spanish. Face it, because Cubans don’t ‘own’ anything, they don’t care to take care of anything, including their streets.

  • Totalitarian rule such as in Cuba and the U.S. results in a disconnect between people and their societies.
    When people are ordered about and not part of the decision making processes, they don’t often want to participate in doing what they are told or even what they should do as citizens in a community for their own benefit.
    Cuba’s state capitalism and PCC-run/controlled government structures are no less totalitarian than U.S. private enterprise economics and oligarchic government and the results are the same in not participating with one’s neighbors in projects that benefit all .
    Totalitarian forms create selfish populations.
    It’s why Cuba needs to make Poder Popular what it was intended to be and dump the PCC and state-capitalism to make the revolution what it might have been, what it could be and that is democratic..

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