HAVANA TIMES — They say that a picture is worth more than a thousand words. It’s a well known fact that time, relentless and irreversible, transforms every living thing and even what appears to be static. The only place where faces and bodies, sensations and the backdrops of our lives remain intact in a continuous stream is in our memory.
However, if we see a place associated with so many happy memories, run down, broken, forgotten, it’s inevitable that we feel like something (or someone) is mocking what our past is worth, the hard work and resources that were needed to build it, and the joy that has been snatched away from present and future generations.
In an article published on Cubanet, I saw some photos of Lenin Park and the National Aquarium which reminded me of the Giant Swimming Pool in Alamar, an option in the ‘90s that substituted going to the beach and saved us the journey in packed buses and the trouble of having to go so far away.
The same crushing damage that pain us, as if our own experiences were being dragged down along with the rust, dirt and rubble, our most treasured nostalgia being trampled on.
We can and it’s only natural that we should accept change, but only when things are knocked down so they can be built again, improved, and thus filling every corner of the past with progress.
In Cuba’s surreal reality, blame is shifted and those who are responsible slip away. People responsible are only seen when it’s for something successful. But, what chain of actions and decisions leads to the abandonment of leisure facilities that were a part of so many generations’ childhood?
Why is Lenin Park and the National Aquarium in the state they’re in? Why have we lost this Giant Swimming Pool, which was a source of fun for children, young people and adults alike, and which apparently was the first of seven that were going to be built along the coast?
Why is it that in Jose Marti Park, which is also situated in Alamar, most of the playground equipment which was brought from Tarara (another recreational space snatched from us Cubans) with great fanfare no longer works?
When I walk past the cinema in this “City of the Future”, which once radiated in the ‘80s with its beautiful crystalline lobby, and which surrended to the corrosion of Nature’s elements years ago, I can’t help but remember a man I met, the founder of Alamar and the construction manager of its most important facilities, who along with the “white helmet” brigades, promoted by Fidel, believed that they were building a better world for their children.
“Yesterday, I walked past the cinema and began to cry,” this man confessed to me. I proposed to interview him and he accepted, but the day we were meant to meet, he had to go to the hospital. I only found out later that he had sold his house and had immigrated to the US.
In an informal conversation that I just happened to listen in on, I learnt that the municipal government in East Havana, which was talking with several Protestant churches, had suggested to the Christian mission that they needed to steer young people towards constructive forms of entertaintainment that would keep them away from harmful habits like drugs. Their proposal was to build a skating rink which they already had all the resources for. All they needed was the government’s stamp of approval.
Although we know how long and cumbersome this bureaucratic process can be, you might ask yourself what would impede the government from authorizing the construction of something good, useful and necessary. Something which many, many people can enjoy.
Surely there’s a broken link in this bureaucratic chain somewhere where command and control dissolve?
If history is told narrating its conquests, it should also reveal its defeats. The apathy of Cubans begins when we think about the extent of all the damage that has been done, of all the instances of neglect and exclusion, which are the inaudible voice of the place the public has for the State.
This place which can be seen in the neighborhood Assemblies where citizens no longer want to go because they feel like they’re being mocked, swindled, because their never-ending proposals are only met with ambiguous responses or solemn sentences.
When I look at just how many buildings have been handed over to be demolished (not because of war or a natural catastrophe, but the result of a lethal mix of disastrous government administration, bureaucratic density and civil apathy), I understand that it’s here where the Cuban people’s obsession with leaving, with getting out of this centralized system begins. Where they can’t even decide what is going to happen with potholes, the garbage, the lack of public street lighting and recreational options. It’s a natural human need to breathe in the air of evolution, not stale air. People want to be a part of life, of the animate, not to be part of what is atrophied or paralyzed.