Jorge’s Home Building Blues

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez

Photo from Viñales by Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 16 — What Jorge doesn’t understand is why he was prevented from putting up a tent in the yard of the farmhouse where he lives. He stays there with the homeowners, who “adopted” him some time ago.

Since this area — called “La Peña” — is being repopulated by former locals, Jorge thought he too could set up his own little dwelling within the boundaries of the land belonging to his “extended family.”

No one suspected that a tent anchored to the ground could mean a “violation of state security,” yet that turned out to be the case. The local authorities interpreted this proposed “occupation” in the backyard of the house as a danger to the community.

Jorge was listed in the book of residents there, so he didn’t understand the position taken by the authorities in La Peña.

He thought perhaps they were watching out for his personal safety in the face of all the hurricanes that continually prey on the island. He didn’t want to see himself “flying off” with his tent over the hilltop of Viñales either. Therefore, he concluded that building a solid wooden structure was the best solution.

Soon after his planned construction project made it to the ears of the local authorities, they erected new obstacles against Jorge: permits, permits and more permits.

Nonetheless Jorge met each of their requirements. Confident in the legality of his project, he invited some friends from Havana to participate in the construction of the house and the building of a bridge needed by the community. He thought that his contribution to the development of the community’s infrastructure would reduce the authorities’ bias against him.


A half an hour after their arrival, his friends were forced to identify themselves to the local police. The officials let them know — with irony and sarcasm — that they knew the crew’s intentions, though Jorge’s friends didn’t know whether to rejoice or worry about the comment.

They hoped the officials would give the nod to their cutting down the thick woody marabou bushes for the project, since ultimately they would also be building what would be the first bridge of La Peña.

The next day Jorge and his friends cut down a lot of marabou. They needed it to build a solid house. The idea of habitat presupposed working the land and sociability. The Marabou would then serve for living, producing and socializing.

Now things would be fine, thought Jorge when he saw the authorities returning. No one can bother you for cutting down marabou. [President Raul Castro had even announced a crusade against it several years ago.]

The authorities called him to the side to tell him that he couldn’t be inviting strangers to the town, he couldn’t cut down marabou without permission and that his friends could only stay there for ten days.

Jorge was confused. He didn’t understand. And in a week a dozen more people were coming to help him build his home.

“What do you mean more people? You can’t do this to the community, Jorge. We’ve struggled for this to come to life again,” the officials explained to him.

Jorge was stunned. He shook his head with the hope that someone would confess this all to be a joke – a bad joke. His gaze meets that of Andrew’s, one of his friends who had come to help.

Andrew then started heading back down the road that would lead him to the city of Viñales and from there on to Havana. No one wondered why Andrew left.

Neither did Jorge.

Andrew believed that in the end Jorge would have his house – a house full of friends from Havana. He, like Jorge, was going to lean back on the columns of marabou that held up the roof against hurricanes. He thought about the day when the local authorities would recognize that their resistance was all part of a bad joke.

“If that had been serious, you guys would have never been able to build this house.”

In that near future, Andres would discover Jorge celebrating his return to La Peña.

These are difficult times in which “doing” means political dissidence for the government.

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.

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