By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – This was the name of a song by the music group Los Van Van, back in the ‘80s. The song was about the phenomenon of Cubans migrating to the capital from the country’s interior, in search of better opportunities, of course.
I was very young at the time and didn’t understand certain things, I guess the song didn’t sit well with people from the provinces at the time. This phenomenon continues to this day. You can’t deny the capital is where it’s at. People even jokingly say that Cuba is Havana, the rest are just green spaces.
But I don’t want to write about migration today, instead I’d like to talk about the condition of most of “every Cuban’s capital”, which has been the case for a while.
Yes, because certain strategic places for tourism were renovated some years ago, but this hasn’t managed to erase the terrible state of many of its streets and buildings in most municipalities.
My first observations on the matter date back to 1999, when I was studying in the city. I’d spend the night in Santos Suarez neighborhood and every morning, I’d imagine October 10th Avenue like a river dragging along all the damage done over the years, which has been neglected. I also remember finding myself on the hill in this neighborhood in the evening, and making out the north side of Havana, especially Central Havana, Old Havana, the outline of Bahia and a little more. I always thought it looked like a bombed city.
In 2003, I visited the house of an ex-wife’s uncle. He was leaving for Spain and, at the time, families would occupy the emigre’s home and they weren’t evicted, despite legislation at the time not allowing this. He proposed we stay in this house, which was in San Miguel del Padron.
My wife wasn’t convinced and quite frankly, seeing the streets full of potholes, the sad look on people’s faces, houses in desperate need of a lick of paint and many others in poor condition, I wasn’t seduced by the idea. It’s true that in my small town things have never been so great to “set off fireworks”, but that neighborhood seemed like it had been taken out of a dirty realism story by Pedro Juan Gutierrez.
Honoring the truth, the writer didn’t exaggerate when he describes the dirt and poverty in his neighborhood in Central Havana. I was traveling to this area a while back and I could confirm what the author says in his work belonging to the Central Havana series.
The poverty, scarcity and the feeling you’re walking in a concrete jungle can be seen in the face of the black and mestizo people sitting in the doorways of dilapidated tenements, scantly dressed women with defiant gazes and a provocative strut, buildings whose walls seem like raw flesh, the countless potholes in streets and sidewalks, an unpleasant and strange smell…
Later, in 2018, I became involved with a woman living in Parraga, so I would travel there almost every weekend. Parraga is a poor neighborhood with infrastructure similar to that of San Miguel del Padron.
A few days ago, a friend from my town who has been living in the Capital for 10 years told me, “Except for Vedado, Miramar, Siboney, Kholy, some places in Old Havana and others I might have forgotten, the rest is in a deplorable state.”
However, Havana was named a Wonder City by the Swiss foundation New7Wonders, in 2016. Why? They said it was because of its “mythical appeal, the warm and welcoming environment, and the charisma and joviality of its inhabitants.”
While these reasons are binding, are they enough just because thousands of people in a contest called by the famous foundation see it this way? Because the way I see it, Havana can’t take anymore.
Maybe they were seduced by this mystique Havana has, which for them could be the allegory of a struggling woman who hasn’t lost her sensuality, despite the years and beatings Life has given her.