Havana Can’t Bear Anymore

By Veronica Fernandez

 House in the Havana suburb of Cojimar.  Photo: Caridad
House in the Havana suburb of Cojimar. Photo: Caridad

For some time I have wanted to comment on this issue once again, because I experience it daily and it has now become a part of history for its long duration.  Day after day I have noticed that instead of it getting addressed, it’s getting worse.

For several months, the center of the Cuban capital had seen certain improvements in terms of transportation, because numbers of new buses had been imported to the island, principally from China and Russia.

Also, new bus routes have been established in search of alternative solutions to incorporate previously existing ones.  Of course, they will never be able to fully serve the mass of people who live in Havana today.

For a great number of these people, coming from the eastern provinces and having squeezed into every corner of the capital, the situation has existed for many years.  As alluded to in the famous song “La Habana no aguanta más” (Havana can’t bear any more) by the Cuban group Los Van Van.  This circumstance has caused the Cuban government take steps to control this situation.

It is obvious that this mass movement of people to the city has overloaded all of the city’s systems, including employment, housing, food markets, public recreation, workplaces, etc.

This whole situation has reverberated in areas such as Cojímar, which was a small community up until 15 years ago and has now become a large suburb.  This is due to the number of people who live in such neighborhoods and the quantity of houses and apartments that exit there.  The majority of these homes have been built by the occupants themselves and range in condition from critically substandard to very nice, according to the purchasing power of each family.

As an example, I’ve lived in the same place for four decades.  Behind my house there always existed a plot of land on which vegetable gardens were grown by the neighbor residents.  When the “Special Period” economic crisis of the 1990s hit, what was cultivated on that patch of ground helped us to subsist.

Right now, seven two-story homes are under construction in the neighborhood to house more people; we still don’t know where they are coming from.  In short, though Cojímar is already immense, we continue being served by just a single bus route to Havana whose frequency is unpredictable.  Adding to that unpredictability is that we never know – after waiting more than an hour at the bus stop – whether all the people will be able to get on.

 Main Street of the Havana suburb of Cojimar.  Photo: Caridad
Main Street of the Havana suburb of Cojimar. Photo: Caridad

This is because this route (the #58) arrives completely full of passengers coming from another suburb named Guiteras, which is also to the east of the city and also packed with people.  The difference between it and Cojímar, though, is that Guiteras residents can take this bus line or others to get to the center of Havana, but we residents of Cojímar cannot.

A few days ago, I found myself in the Revolution Square area, where riders can board the #58. The bus driver announced to the people waiting for it that he would let on whoever he wanted to, not to mention how he communicated this to us shouting with a complete lack of common courtesy.

I wondered to myself, on top of having to wait so long to go from one place to another, and with such uncertainty, why do we also have to put up with these tirades of bad manners and disrespect?

But like this incident, I have thousands of other anecdotes. Among those that those stand out are when the drivers – whichever one it might be – “killing time.”  In order to pack the bus with people and collect more fares.  They pack the bus full with citizens and then say they cannot continue because they have to break for a snack half way along the route, or these drivers might stop the bus and get out to make a phone call.

It is endless how much one can say about the poor service on this route and of its employees and administrative staff who reside at the end of the line in Guiteras.

Why is it that other places and suburbs of the capital have benefited from transportation, new facilities, street repairs, sewer systems, public lighting, etc., and Cojímer residents continue to be forgotten? – this village of such history and being so close to the very center of the city.

Who is to blame?  I’m sure it is not for a lack of complaining or making suggestions.  Many think that it’s because of negligence, because as the saying goes: when there’s a will there’s a way.

What can be done with all these inconveniences and discouragement to people who are honest, simple and supporters of the Revolution?

Veronica Fernadez

Veronica Fernandez: I was born in the town of Regla, on the other side of Havana Bay. Over the years, many people from Regla have gone to live in Cojimar, fleeing the contamination from the petroleum refinery in Regla. That's what my family did when I was just four years old. Since I was a little girl I have been drawn to the arts and letters. Poetry and narrative writing are my favorites. I had the good fortune to study philology, a branch of the human sciences dealing with language and literature, at the University of Havana with top notch professors. As a Capricorn, I adore organization, people who are mature, the romantic things in life and the lack of self-interest that is the backbone of these times. I enjoy our typical Cuban food, (white rice, black beans, pork and yucca with garlic sauce) and also Italian food. I also like chocolate and drinking a mojito (rum cocktail) in the historic center of my city.

4 thoughts on “Havana Can’t Bear Anymore

  • @Grady Ross Daugherty
    The Cuban government already tried agricultural co-ops, and as you know recently Raul Castro referred to the fields situation as critically unproductive. Now the government is trying to reverse the process and rent that land to private farmers. What makes you think that co-ops will work out this time?

  • All attempts to determine where people can or should live in their country is wrong and may become a source of serious social friction/stratificacion, with the creation of ghettos etc. Best examples are the Balkans, Palestine, or India. The problem in Cuba has been a lack of official vision, by focusing the limited development that have taken place in the country in the past half a century, in Havana. Copelia Ice Cream parlor, Amadeo Roldan Theater, William Soler Hospital or Lenin Park, exists only in Havana and no where else. What are people expected to do? Most people in Europe or the US, do not wish to live in the inner city, because they enjoy all of life ammenities in the suburb or small communities. Restore the beauties of Santiago de Cuba, Holguin or Ciego de Avila, provide the population with similar amenities and development opportunities and once again, people from the interior visit Havana and go home. Fix the problem, do not blame the victim!

  • Many years ago the guaguas drove though the side streets, next door in Camilo Cienfuegos and made pick-ups.

  • We live in Santa Monica, California, 10 miles west of the center of Los Angeles. Bus service here and in Los Angeles is municipally owned and is fairly good. It could however be much better, as fares rise continually and poorer people have to bear rising costs. Although there is a great difference between Cojimar/Havana and Santa Monica/Los Angeles, it seems that there is a common solution to the problems of both districts. That solution would be for the transport companies to be owned and run as cooperatives. In such cooperatives the drivers, maintenance people, administrators and managers would own capital shares. Government would own non-controlling, preferred shares, and therefore not have to tax the bus line profits. Riders might help capitalize the transport companies through preferred (non-controlling) stock purchases. All in all, the answer to the problems of citizens in both countries, whether having to do with bus service, or other enterprise and consumer problems, is co-ops

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