Speaking of Berroa

Osmel Almaguer

House in Berroa.

HAVANA TIMES — Berroa is a community to the east of Havana. And while it’s a “community,” properly speaking, its only current importance is as a commercial zone.

In it is located Havana’s famous duty-free zone, within which lie numbers of warehouses through which tons of merchandise circulate without having to pay import or export fees. Also located there is an office of the renowned Mercedes Benz company – actually it’s a sales office.

Likewise, there’s a Suchel factory (the largest perfumery company in the country), in addition to the Nguyen Van Troi Shoe Factory and another plant where they make floor tiles.

Despite all this surging productivity, Berroa is a spatially dispersed community that’s not very prosperous. It’s a rural and isolated community with little or no access to city bus service.

Fortunately, it partially benefited from the installation of telephone lines when these were connected to zones 9 and 10 in Alamar (a project that was intended to cover that entire neighborhood but which, incidentally, still hasn’t been completed after ten years).

But back to Berroa, which is where I was born.

At first it was only a valley with a few farmhouses and two or three manufacturing plants, but after the 1990s it was affected by the new social dynamics that came into play.

This occurred in two different ways: First with the increase in plants, factories and companies, and later as the destination of the waves of immigrants who came fleeing the Special Period crisis in the east of the country, which people have told me was much worse than in Havana, though that’s something difficult to even imagine.

Berroa’s population has quadrupled in recent years and the legal status of the new settlement is unclear. There’s disagreement between the various authorities whether to legally permit the homes that have been built there or to evict the new residents living in them.

Among them there are some very good people. They’ve even created a kind of alternative Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) organization that allows them to stay organized and integrated. Nevertheless there are also those who have come there with bad intentions, since among any group of people there will always be bad people as well as the good.

Some people lambast against these “illegals” claiming that the crime rate has increased along with the increase in these settlements. Others advocate legalizing all of them for once and for all so as to define the situation. These people argue that “they’re simply Cuban citizens and they have the right to live where they please.”

The population and the number of companies are multiplying in Berroa, which one would think would indicate an increase in prosperity – but that’s not the case. The factories, though not all of them, also have a negative impact on the green landscape of the area.

Poor lighting, the precarious lifestyle of some of the residents, the lack of security and coordination, etc. are some of the issues raised again and again in residents’ meetings with their delegate. So far, responses from the authorities have been lost in delays, red tape and bureaucratic procedures.

Berroa now exists as a community, and it will have to be dealt with as such. We’re more than simple campesinos on the fringes of an industrial area.