A Cuban State Subsidy to Repair One’s Home… and Go Insane in the Process

Jorge Milanés Despaigne

Cement blocks.  Photo: granma.cu
Cement blocks. Photo: granma.cu

HAVANA TIMES — After two years of requesting a State subsidy to finish some construction work at home – work I’d been unable to complete for financial reasons – the municipal government in Habana del Este finally approved the aid, for a value of 48,394 Cuban pesos (or US $ 2,419).

This is “prioritized financial aid” assigned by the Cuban State to low-income people, aimed at helping these repair homes that are in poor condition. It includes the assigning of building materials, transportation and construction workers.

On receiving official approval, I headed to the bank, as is established and, the next day, went to the place where construction materials are sold, known in Cuba as rastros. I found out the prices, forms of transportation and how the process works. The receptionist, a woman named Niurka, detailed the procedure to follow to buy the materials, but I decided not to buy or put anything on reserve that day. I waited for the steel rods to arrive first, and was able to buy these without any problems.

The next day, I got a call at work from my neighbor, who informed me concrete blocks had just arrived at the rastro. I got there in 20 minutes but, despite having literally run to the place, it was too late: all blocks were already spoken for, or so Belkis, the woman in charge of the warehouse, told me. At the entrance, I asked some people waiting for other materials (who had also received subsidies) some questions.

On my way home, I saw some men selling concrete blocks out of a trailer. I asked them whether they had been to the rastro and they said they hadn’t, that they could take the blocks to my home at 10 Cuban pesos the unit, if I was interested. I said no, because I have to buy these at the rastro at the subsidized price, which is cheaper.

The next day, I was the first to arrive at the rastro and wait for the concrete blocks to arrive. While I waited, I asked the people there (including the “tricycle taxis”) some questions. “If you don’t keep a constant eye on the blocks, you’ll never get your hands on them, because they haven’t come in for a while and, when they do, they’re already spoken for,” were some of the comments I got.

With thin information, I took a break from work for a few days, to give the matter my full attention (lest the roof of my house collapse on top of me).

I was at the entrance to the place, located in Cojimar, at seven in the morning, waiting for the truck to arrive.

At 11 in the morning, I went to the market located four blocks away for a few minutes. When I got back, the blessed truck loaded with concrete blocks had already arrived. When I went into the office, Belkis, the warehouse lady, told me that, since I wasn’t there when the truck arrived, they had sold all of the blocks to a woman who was already there. She pointed at her with an almost threatening look so I would approve of her misdeed, as subsidized cases are a priority.

To be continued…


Jorge Milanes

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.

5 thoughts on “A Cuban State Subsidy to Repair One’s Home… and Go Insane in the Process

  • I agree with you, a good Cuban Café con leche is far superior to the burnt swill sold by Starbucks. A chain of Cuban owned and operated coffee shops selling fine Cuban grown coffee would be great.

  • Sorry Moses, instead of a chain like Starbucks selling to Cubans imported coffee I would much rather like to see lots of independent coffee shops selling proper Cuban coffee. My problem with WallMart is that they sell guns which come in handy for school massacres. That said its British subsidiary ASDA sells Cuban rum instead of guns.

  • In Canada, I can renovate my home and pay for it by taking out a line of credit loan on the equity of my house. In this way, home owners can leverage the capital invested in their property and use it to improve their homes, thereby raising their standard of living and increasing the wealth of our country.

    But in Cuba, property laws are weak to non-existent and no mortgage market, and therefore no possibility of a line of credit loan for home owners. The capital represented by real property therefore remains locked and unavailable for development. As a consequence, a majority of Cuban people lack the necessary funds for repairs or renovations to they homes. The buildings decay and crumble, destroying the equity value of the property. This is yet another way in which socialism has destroyed the wealth of the Cuban nation.

    Any Cuban government program aimed at improving the manufacture and distribution of a few loads of bricks is never going to be sufficient to stem the tide of destruction of Cuban buildings, let alone reverse the trend.

  • Stalinism with its bureaucracy, corruption and repression is a real nightmare. Time to end it.

  • Stories like this justify the Home Depot franchise joining WalMart and Starbucks as ‘first in the door’ US businesses to open the door to the Cuban economy.

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