San Diego Without the Make-Up

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.


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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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.

  • The writers are real folks who live in Cuba and abroad. Sometimes, I wonder about the genuineness of the pro-Castro commenters. The Castros maintain a group of Internet trolls whose job it is to flood blogs like Havana Times with pro-Castro propaganda. I can almost always spot them. Like you, they have a poor recollection of US history. Like you, they seem overly offended by the slightest criticism, especially of the Castros. And like you, they deflect rather than defend Castro policy. They usually argue that life is not perfect in the US to justify the disaster in Cuba. Wait, these phonies are a lot like you. ……

  • Blog is Havana Times. Post is the article that Erasmo has written. Keep up with the lingo dude.

  • Te felicito tu facilidad con el Inglés

  • CUBA is beautiful, the regime / revolution is not. They are not the same thing. A distinction you are unable to see.

  • Yes the articles are originally in Spanish. I read all of the comments in English but only write additional comments on the Spanish side of HT.

  • I wish you could visit Cuba and see with your eyes that you are nothing but a victim of Castro’s propaganda.

  • You never will, for they are fictitious. The sole purpose is to denigrate the Revolution. I made myself very clear; even if there was a mugging, why highlight it internationally as if it is the norm when there are such occurrences happening in the USA every five minutes and HT does not high light them? Their report is not balanced. It is one sided and totally against Cuba and the Revolution. It is quite evident to see that they are hell bent on portraying Cuba in a negative light. Compare this one incident if it is true to the many other reports that Cuba is one of the safest place to visit? Why the great hullabaloo?

  • Good question Stephen and glad IC responded as I’ve wondered the same.

  • Moses;Not true,this blog is about a Cuban who visited the USA.

  • I believe these articles are mostly translated. You can visit the Spanish version of HT and find that Erasmo does occasionally read and interact with those who comment.

  • I carry no illusions about the challenges of being poor in America. Or being Black. Or being poor and Black. But this blog is about Cuba. America’s problems don’t make Cuba’s problems any less challenging for Cubans.

  • Question: do the authors of these posts see the comments here? I haven’t yet seen a response or clarification from any of the contributors.

  • I can accept that.

  • Your so full of it Kennedy. I don’t think even you believe what you write.

  • I live in Tucson and deal often with the homeless. My observation is the overwhelming majority are mentally disabled. What I will state, after living in Chicago, is you haven’t seen anything until you see the slums in the south side of said city. Beyond despair and sad. Erasmo is a great writer and commentator, in my opinion, and I enjoy all of his posts. I disagree with him many times but he brings much to the table, especially his viewpoints from a different perspective. I’m conservative and a capitalist. I grew up poor but wasn’t black or spanish and would be a liar to write that being white was an advantage. I have my own business and pay my employees more than anyone in my field. My best partner is black and i have never, ever even thought he is any different than me. My profit is approximately 15% of net and am proud that I provide a living to a select few. I have worked 80 plus hours most of my life and in some cases cleaning toilets just to make a buck. Cuba has some of the most innovative people on the planet. I know because I’ve worked with them. I pray I live long enough to see this country prosper and grow.

  • On my very first visit to the United States of America, I visited New York, a place I have always wanted to see, because most of the people who migrated from my island resided in New York. On my way from the Airport, I saw about six to eight white sheets on the road, so I inquired as to what they were. As we drew nearer to them i realized that it was people who were gunned down. I became scared for my life. After all the fancy things I was told about the great America, I learned that I could be walking down the Street innocently and I could be killed by a stray bullet from a gun fight, or, I could be pulled over by a cop and, because I am black, I could be shot especially if I am cheeky. During my stay, there was an exchange programme between some Japaneses students. One of the Japanese students got lost and went to rap on the door of a building to ask for advice and direction. He was shot dead. The owner of the house said that he thought that the student was coming to rob him. Life is very valueless and worthless in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

  • Kennedy’s imaginary limo carrying Erasmo must have taken a wrong turn.

  • Next time you visit the USA.,may I suggest you visit Detroit and bring Moses with you.

  • I would suggest that you may be right about Tijuana benefitting from closeness to San Diego and this could be true while the US is benefitting from an unequal relationship with the Third World as a whole.

  • I don’t disagree with any of your observations. Rather, I question the qualities of your judgments. For example, what qualifies you to determine if the homeless you saw were mentally ill or on drugs or not. Mental illness as well as drug use are not as obvious as you may think. Not to mention that I have found Cubans living in Cuba to be somewhat naive on these matters. For good reason, the incidence of functional mental illness and drug use visible on the street in Cuba is relatively low. I also disagree with your assumption that San Diegans live well at the expense of their third world neighbors to the south. On the contrary, Tijuana lives BETTER because of its proximity to San Diego to the north. You may be able to sleep with a clearer conscience because you believe that Cuba does less harm to the environment. I see it another way. I probably sleep just as well as you do because I know that the US is doing far more to save the planet than Cuba and most other nations.

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