Erasmo Calzadilla

Muchacha homeless durmiendo con su perro.

HAVANA TIMES — In November, I spent a couple weeks in San Diego, my first trip abroad. I’m still drooling over the city, I admit it, but this has not blinded me to its uglier sides. One of them is the eternal dilemma of the border.

The profound economic divide separating Mexico and the United States leads to an unhealthy situation across the line that separates the two countries. There, we find illegal trafficking of every type: drugs, weapons, illegal merchandise and “illegals” who are treated as merchandise.

The most horrible things are seen in neighboring Tijuana, but, from time to time, the peace of the city is shattered by police pursuits, shootouts, murders, kidnappings, crackdowns and operations where civilians are killed.

San Diego is not to be blamed of its geographic location. It is only to blame for prospering under the protective umbrella of the State that most zealously defends – with the use of military force, where needed – this loathsome economic world order.

A well-equipped naval base lies on the city’s strategic port area. Airplane carriers, nuclear submarines and other war machines rest at the doorsteps of Latin America, ready to protect neocolonial interests.

Another major problem San Diego faces is the homeless. It is striking to see so many of them, offering a sad contrast to all the luxury. They set up camp on the sidewalks, under bridges, on benches, beneath the cover of trees at parks and even outside the most dazzling of skyscrapers.

Lado mexicano de la frontera.

To survive, they ask for change, rummage through the garbage and take the occasional job…though some no longer even try. The institutions and social networks that support them aren’t enough.

I asked several learned people about the causes of this regrettable situation. The most common replies were: 1. Many are war veterans and/or mentally ill individuals who do not receive sufficient aid from the government. 2. Many become homeless because of drugs. 3. They come from other corners of the country, attracted by the weather.

I visited the places where the homeless gather and they didn’t strike me as mentally ill, or drug addicts, but as people who, for one reason or another, were left out of the system and were unable to reintegrate. I feel the good people of San Diego look the other way. They blame the government or the victims and wash their hands of doing more for others this way. This is typical of human beings; we do exactly the same in Havana.

Another negative aspect of San Diego is the wastefulness and pollution, two intimately linked phenomena.

The city shows as much concern for its own, immediate environment as it does neglect for the global impact of its lifestyle. They are extremely worried about the quality of the air they breathe but they remain pathologically dependent on cars (to engines in the general sense of the word) and make little use of public transportation.

One is hard pressed to find a single factory chimney in the city. The bulk of local industry relocated to Mexico or other places where they can poison the environment without any complaints from anyone. Their shiny products end up behind the store windows of charming cities up north. That is how the prettiest flower in the desert remains pure.

The USA-Cuba ecological mark.

I should mention that San Diego possesses an efficient recycling system, sustained by an environmentally-conscious population, but recycling is a fossil-fuel-gulching system that contributes to climate change considerably. The only real solution is to drastically reduce consumption, and that’s not something on the agenda of leaders.

Let us now turn to the water. The region’s climate is semi-arid, but San Diego doesn’t want to go without gardens, swimming pools, golf courses and other luxuries and services that deplete this precious liquid. They pump the water primarily from the Colorado River, which is already over-exploited and isn’t exactly around the corner.

Like Cuba, the city produces only a small fraction of the food it consumes. I don’t even want to think what will happen the day all vital fluids (oil, gas, electricity and water) start to disappear.

Conclusion

San Diego helped me discover certain vital essences and, through contrast, to confirm the state of decay of the society I live in. It’s a shame its charms depend on a predatory, unjust and environmentally unsustainable system. Life in Cuba is bitter and sordid but, here, I sleep with a clearer conscience.

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Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

23 thoughts on “San Diego Without the Make-Up

  • Kennedy, this is not a blog on the United States. Likewise, the Havana Times writers are asked to describe their experiences. Why don’t you write a piece of lets say 400-600 words describing some of your experiences in Cuba; why you decided to leave and what keeps you from going back to live there.

  • Some years ago I read that 20% of homeless people in the US had some form of employment, but not enough to afford housing.

  • That’s largely true about homelessness wherever you go. People end up on the street because of their inability to function in a world that requires some semblance of personal responsibility. That homelessness actually exists in places where it can get down to 40 below zero in the winter is a testament to that — if those people were capable of functioning in society they’d being doing it. Not wanting to freeze to death is more than enough of a motivator for those who are equipped to do anything about it.

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