By Paula Henriquez

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES – Family is the foundation of society and, like every family, it is made up of two people who love each other and whose love may result in a third or fourth person, or even more in some cases.

Family is the breath of life, its what ensures the future of civilization and strengthens countries all over the world. While it may seem strong as a concept, it is often very fragile in real life. There are many conditions that can weaken it as its very foundations.

I’m not only referring to problems of falling out of love, infertility etc., but more specifically to something very specific to our country, which is something Cubans have been complaining about for a very long time. Space, privacy, and the right to become independent. In summary, Cuba’s great housing crisis.

Having your own space to raise your children far from preconceptions and harm is, perhaps, evey young couple’s dream when they decide to begin their own family. This is why the housing crisis in my country is one of the things that most concerns our people.

I know many Cubans who live in homes that have been declared “uninhabitable” for years. I know others who have lived forever in “temporary” homes or shelters, as they are often called. These places are mostly old lodges in a deplorable condition. They are far from being temporary accommodation, which we are told they are in theory. They become homes people are forced to live in.

I know other families, like my own, who live altogether in family homes. It’s normal for different generations to live under the same roof in Cuba. You can imagine how hard this can be not only in terms of space, but also in terms of cohabitation. Living like this can become unbearable in some cases, and it can have negative effects on the young couple’s relationship.

Bringing a child into the world is by far the greatest blessing in life. Yet it is also one of the biggest challenges in life, and more so here. We are three for the moment and we are looking at bringing a fourth member into our family. However, we are sharing a room that measures 3 x 2.20 meters.

We are a total of eight people coliving in a two-bedroom house, with different ages, points of views and characters. You can imagine how the elder members of the family give their opinion about how to do things. And they don’t just stop at telling you, they try to impose their will. In short… cohabitation is a very sensitive topic, more so when we are all family.

This could be easily resolved, or pretty easily resolved, in any other country, as anyone working with an average wage could look for a place to rent. This is unthinkable in Cuba.

Renting a house isn’t illegal, there is a regulation for renting. However, there aren’t enough homes and the price is never what’s declared at the Tax Office, it’s a lot higher.

Of course, there’s a reason for this, but that’s another story. Conclusion: it’s as if this alternative doesn’t exist for average workers.

Another option that could work is expanding the family home. I said “could work” though. Maybe at another time. Right now, this isn’t feasible either given the current crisis the world is experiencing, and Cuba especially.

I’m not only talking about permits needed to remodel a house, which are quite a few by the way. The problem now is that the materials needed to remodel are almost non-existent. The few you can find, are out of reach price wise. So, we’re back to where we started off.

This is why it’s normal there are so many family conflicts. The dream of being independent is still far-off for most Cuban families. Nothing like being able to share life with our partners and children without others judging every decision we make. Or others imposing their decisions because they believe they are better. It is simply every free human’s basic wish.

Read more posts by Paula Henriquez


Paula Henriquez

Paula Henriquez: Since childhood I have been told I should be careful what I say in public. "Think before you speak, especially in front of others," my mother would say, and it was more of a plea than a scolding. Even today I hear her and I obey her, just that I do not speak, I write. Letters and words are my escape, my exit and daily catharsis, which printed on paper, revive me. And this picture is my refuge.

5 thoughts on “Your House, My House, Our House

  • Warren, where are you BC ? If you contact me I will respond.

  • Warren, ask Circles to send me your e-mail address and I will contact you directly.

  • Carlyle MacDuff,
    Please provide information on how we can purchase a home for a young Cuban family. My wife and I have visited this incredible island nation 24 times and always make sure we look after our friends. I had no idea we could buy them a home. Please elaborate. Much appreciated from a Canadian who loves the Cuban people.

  • Is being a man Easy? Monica Rivero (September 14, 2020 Havana Times) in her article outlines how difficult it is for a man to be a man in Cuba today, for a Cuban man to outwardly demonstrate his masculinity given the dire circumstances in Cuba is not easy. Certainly not the man’s fault but nevertheless he faces significant challenges to which as Paula alludes: a man living elsewhere does not have. In support of Monica’s article, Paula describes how the lack of housing compounds the hardship of being a man in Cuba today.

    Assuming the head of the household is a man, he would quickly move away from the present persistent problem and rent suitable accommodations. Most men in such circumstances would do this in a flash for the betterment of his wife, children and everyone else involved. Not to do so and the man, the head of the household, the machismo man, would be seen as less than manly.

    However as Paula states: “This could be easily resolved, or pretty easily resolved, in any other country, as anyone working with an average wage could look for a place to rent. This is unthinkable in Cuba” Yes. Paula is absolutely right.

    It is unthinkable in Cuba to rent suitable accommodations and again through no fault of Paula’s family and her husband and the countless other Cuban men in similar situation who are unable to provide appropriate human living arrangements for a growing family. It must eat away at a man’s inner core unable to provide for his family what is a human basic need and wish.

    The Cuban man cannot rent. That option is not realistic. And the inability of a Cuban family to renovate their present living arrangements because of lack of money and/or lack of building materials must also be gut wrenching.

    So, subtract the right to become independent, and any man will feel inferior. Any man in such circumstances, a servant of the state, with no hope of escaping such circumstances cannot but feel inadequate in their day to day living circumstances. Being a masculine man in Cuba is not easy.

    These are very unfortunate circumstances that lead to extreme family stress, family conflict which sometimes manifests and erupts into violence. Paula states the situation is “unbearable”. When a man tries his hardest to provide for his family but sees he is hitting his head against a stone wall, nothing positive comes from such a negative situation. In such a negative family dynamic, life in general cannot be easy.

    Paula’s article confluences Monica’s. The critical housing shortage in Cuba does nothing to make life any easier for families, particularly men, supposedly the head of the household, the masculine one, who tries to provide decent living arrangements for his wife and children. Again, not easy.

    Absolutely as Paula writes, family is critical to the survival and future of civilization and at times no matter where one lives the concept is very fragile, like living on egg shells, but I hope Paula and her family maintains her resilience and that she, together with her husband, and children look towards the future with dignity and hope.

  • A clear heart-rending description of life for younger Cubans.

    An appeal to non-Cubans reading this, who wish to do something to help. Buy a home for a young Cuban family! You will find it one of the most rewarding acts of your life, for it will extend your family but will form a deep lasting friendship. The cost of doing so is relatively low – about half the price of a small new car in the capitalist world.

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