A Tale of Two Cities

Isbel Diaz Torres

Luxury apartments built for high-ranking military and State security officers.

Luxurious apartments built on W. 25th Avenue in Havana for high-ranking officers of the Cuban Army and the Ministry of the Interior (State Security) contrast sharply with housing units constructed barely a few miles away in the capital’s community of San Agustin.

In each of the wide balconies of the officers’ buildings, for example, from the street you can see these have two light fixtures with incandescent bulbs.

It doesn’t seem that the future tenants will have the duty of conserving energy like ordinary citizens of this country.  The wide glass doors and the elegant white blinds also help give that impression.

Since all the military owners will also own automobiles, it was deemed necessary to build expansive parking garages that take up the first floor of each building.

The doors of these new facilities —equipped with remote control units to allow the residents access without getting out of their cars— have left those members of the less civilized Lisa community beside themselves.

Likewise, one resident of the San Agustin neighborhood told me that the bathrooms for the officials are ultramodern, with electric showers and all the “bells and whistles” of glossy magazines and popular imagination.

A beautiful garden surrounds the whole installation, which in turn is surrounded by a stately wall. This controlled access will prevent any distracted passerby who might have otherwise wandered onto the lawn to dirty it with their unworthy soles.

For all this, the money can be found.

I decided to bring this situation up at the last Report-back Assembly (where our community delegates report on their work to the voters).

At that gathering they also tried to justify the delay in the delivery of construction materials to a doctor who had served in Venezuela.  The physician, who had been granted the right to an apartment, had agreed to simply accept materials to repair his existing home.

Years have gone by, during which time and hurricanes have struck the country and the luxury apartments have been built; however the doctor has not been provided with either a new home or even building materials. In this same way, thousands of Cuban families affected by the meteorological disasters continue to wait for homes for themselves and their families.

Is that ethical? Is this the “socialist morality” that is spoken of in our constitution?  I think not.  I believe that this is a mistake that those in power should hurry to correct.

An enclave, with perimeter walls and sentry stations?  I imagine that when the high-level officers who will inhabit those homes are making their high-level national security decisions, they’ll be thinking the whole time of the valiant masses who read the newspapers or watch the national TV news.  Now I feel safer.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cities

  • Isbel

    Great article!

    You are correct it’s not moral for them to do so.

    This is one of the many examples of the kind of behavior by the regime that incline me to think that what many people call the Cuban government is more like a mafia organization. Since they offer incentive to those people that support them in power and punish harshly those that are critical or oppose them. This is the Carrot and Stick method I talked about before.

    So whatever happen to all their talks about Social Justice?

    It seem more important for those in power to keep happy those that keep them in power!

  • What is the story on cement and other construction materials in Cuba?

    Near Cienfuegos I saw a rather large cement plant. At capacity, would it meet a significant portion of the area’s needs? Is there a raw material shortage? Or is it a distribution problem?

    I have been in homes where people had a stack of bags of cement, usually covered in plastic sheeting because the roof leaks. From year to year, the bags remain unused because other needed materials aren’t available. These are people whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Mitch and the bags are stored in a relative’s home while they sit under a temporary, roofed room, staring at the spot where they plan to rebuild.

    At one house that was slowly being built over several years, the owner told me that he didn’t qualify for assistance under a government reconstruction plan even though Hurricane Mitch had destroyed his home. Still, he said he had to finish his house before the plan ended because he was buying “excess” cement from those who did qualify. Another Cuban told me that much of this “excess” cement was usually adulterated with extra sand and that it would not be as strong as it should be.

    On the other hand, I have seen a house being built over a relatively short period of time. It seemed to be a joint effort involving neighbours and the intended tenant’s “sweat equity”. A government inspector came by regularly to check the quality of the work. A home-made electric welder was borrowed to weld the roof trusses. All of the work, including electrical and plumbing was being carried out efficiently and met Cuban standards. The owners were to pay for the house over a number of years.

    Next door, a house went up in record time. It was being built, completely out of pocket by the chef of a nearby resort.

    Do you have any knowledge of how the system prioritizes who gets a new house and who doesn’t? The families I’ve mentioned above had children (I don’t know about the chef). The family living in a temporary room have a 5-year-old daughter who was born prematurely without a larynx and has a permanent feeding tube and a colostomy bag. She also has breathing problems due to malformed lungs. She lives with her grandmother, next door where the cement is stored.

    The owner of the house being built over several years with “excess cement” has 3 young children.

    The “sweat equity” home is for a family with 3 teen-agers where the father, an Internationalist who fought in the Congo became a paraplegic due to a tree-cutting accident. He already had a house but it was in poor condition.

    I love Cuba and can’t get enough of it but the more I see and learn, the more questions I have, especially since so many of the answers elicit more questions.

    If you can fill in some of the blanks, it would help me to better understand the things that I see.

    I belong to a volunteer organisation that, for 33 years has been active in sending material and financial aid to Cuba. I sometimes see materials that may have come from us, but it’s a big country and our efforts must be spread thinly.

    I consider Havana Times to be a real find. It has provided me with so much information. Cuba is a treasure trove for anyone who gets off on observing interesting people, a great social experiment and a complex society.


    Brien Young

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