Mrs. Death Died

Regina Cano

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 5 — “Mrs. Muerte (“Death” in Spanish) died and she didn’t complete the process,” said a Housing Department official to me. She was jokingly alluding to the death of a woman who had that name. This was very serious, but this administrator was treating it like a joke, it was a Cuban thing to do, it wasn’t out of cruelty.

“These two people had been in the process for the longest period of time. This one just succeeded in getting through it, but the other one (named Muerte) died recently. They had both spent eleven years going through the procedures. She was an older person. She left the country (probably her only time), returned and died of some disease.” Those were approximately the official’s words.

As I have noted before, legal or “bureaucratic issues” (as they’re also called) have in different ways, at different moments and for a long time robbed us Cubans of our lives, youth, adulthood and old age; particularly those issues having to do with housing, which I think surpass others by a large margin.

In this case, the official was alluding to the process of legally adding on to an existing physical structure two housing units built prior to having begun the legalization process.

One of the periods for doing this was authorized in 2004 and the other began being permitted just over a year ago. Stated like this, it seems that those efforts stopped frozen at two points in that time span, but I assure those who don’t know how this process works that these exist can’t imagine what takes place.

One has to suffer firsthand how they make you show up in their offices over and over again for months without ever getting a firm response.

The inability of them to make a decision could be for one or any number of different reasons. It could be because they simply don’t know what they’re doing, or because a certain “regulation” hasn’t come down from above, or because they have to go to the central office of the Housing Department for approval, or because part of a housing district has been approved and falls under a certain urban planning regulation and another part of the district hasn’t.

Then too, you might hear comments like, “You can only get to that address by car, and I don’t earn enough to afford one” (implying that you’re the one who’s going to have to pay for a taxi). To justify their position, they might add, “I even have to buy the paper I need for my work.”

As you go through their process, today it’s one document that you need, and tomorrow it’s another one; or you need a certain stamp, or a signature is missing, or the document is lost or the entire file has been misplaced. “You have to register,” they’ll say, though no one told you beforehand. So “come back in three days or sometime next week” (tidbits like these are repeated like a recorded message).

They’ll say, “The woman handling your case didn’t come in today; we don’t know what happened to her.”  A week later you’ll hear, “She didn’t come in today, she has a sick child.” Then a month later you find out, “Oh, that woman doesn’t work here anymore, but no one has been hired to do her job yet” (it seems that no one has been hired to do the job of serving the public). Apparently this woman was indispensable.

I’m very sorry about Mrs. Muerte, but I feel much sorrier about how much time is stolen from us in these processes by the vast majority of people who do this kind of work. They and the institutions they work within leave us with that much less time to lead our lives and deal with other important things.

Regina Cano

Regina Cano: I have lived my entire life in Havana, Cuba – the island from which I’ve still never left, and which I love. I was born on September 9, and my parents chose my name out of superstition, but my mother raised me outside the religion professed by her family. I studied accounting and finance at the University of Havana, a profession that I’m not engaged in for the time being, and that I substituted for doing crafts, some ceramics, and studying a little English and about painting. Ah! – concerning my picture: I identify with Rastafarian principles, but I am not one of them. I wear this cap from time to time, but I assure you I just didn't have a better picture.

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