by Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — “When all is said and done, the State has the power and sets down the law. I can come here with Special Forces and put a stop to all this, even if people don’t agree. We can do that and not a thing happens.” (Mr. Fraga, Chair of the People’s Power Council of the municipality of Contramaestre).
Odalis Guerra Gomez, a 43-year-old nurse, lived in a home she had almost finished building through her own efforts, located on Calle 50, between Carretera Central and 1ra Cruce de los Martires, Contramaestre, Santiago de Cuba.
“It was June 23. The day before, people in the neighborhood were saying they would soon come to evict me. I’d shut myself up with my whole family. There’d just been one of those summer downpours that hammer down on the hills.”
So, that morning, the authorities showed up with the paperwork telling you they were going to confiscate the property?
“Nothing of the sort. When I woke up, the house had been surrounded by patrol cars, an ambulance, firefighters and officials from the Anti-Drugs Department (DNA). They even cordoned off the street.”
What were people saying?
“You can imagine. Everyone was out on the street. There was nothing they could do against so much law enforcement, but they were saying it was abusive and unjust. I’d been building my house for ten years, I hadn’t finished the floors, bathrooms and part of the kitchen.”
Who came to evict you, to persuade you to leave without the use of extreme force?
“Mr. Fraga, the Chair of the People’s Power Council. We know each other from the hospital, the only hospital in town. He spoke to me of relocating us, placing us somewhere else, some things having to do with the Ministry of the Interior in Santiago de Cuba, the District Attorney’s Office. According to them, it wasn’t negotiable and the best thing was to cooperate.”
So, were they confiscating your property or relocating you?
“There are videos. Fraga spoke to me of relocating us. He told me to continue appealing to the authorities, that they were willing to give me back my house.”
How do they justify such an extreme response?
“Juan Carlos, the father of my children, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for drug trafficking. They played dirty. They found a person and pushed him to go near my house, then they forced him to declare the marihuana in his backpack was for him (Juan Carlos).”
It all happened like that, all of a sudden?
“They’d carried out two searches in my house and one in the house of Juan Carlos’ mother. They didn’t find any evidence. Not even the dogs smelled anything, but they managed to detect – heaven knows how – 0.0012 grams of marihuana. That’s what the documents say.”
I read “Resolution No. V_01/2015”, signed by Rene Mesa Villafaña, from the Ministry of Construction, on March 13, 2015. The document mentions the 0.0012 grams of marihuana. Let us assume Juan Carlos was really trafficking cannabis, what connection is there between the money earned selling “weed” and the house under construction?
“Juan Carlos served a prison sentence between 2006 and 2013. The paperwork for my house is dated November 2004. When he got out of prison, I supported him, letting him set up a shoe repair workshop. He started living in the house because of this. Not a year passed before they arrested him again. He only spent 2 of the past 11 years in this house. I have all the paperwork and testimonies attesting to how I built the house on my own.”
Despite that, Decree Law 232 is severe. We’re talking about drugs. Tell me about your eviction, or, as they call it, “relocation”.
“Fraga told me that I don’t have a property title for my house and that I’ll never have it. That they were moving me to a three bedroom apartment.”
Did you agree to this?
“I’d doused the house with alcohol and kerosene, but I had to think about this carefully. I have an 8-month-old grandson, a 10-year-old son and a stepfather who’s 77 and diabetic. Incidentally, my stepfather is a member of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution (ACRC). He fought for the revolution. My daughter and I are nurses and, to top things off, we were still grieving my mother’s death the month before. So I went with my sister-in-law and the Vice-Chair of the People’s Power Council to see the apartment.”
The photos speak for themselves. Odalis doesn’t yet live there, and I don’t think any family could live in a place like that.
“It’s a pigsty. They gave me the keys. I said to the Vice-Chair: I’m not willing to have my kids get sick over someone’s whim.”
Did they officially confiscate your house? Did you sign any papers?
“No, it was all word of mouth. We taped the whole thing. I took the building materials, cement, floor tiles and other things from my house to the apartment, all with the help of my relatives and friends. To date, August 26, no one’s bothered to fill any paperwork. Maybe they’re waiting for me to cool off.”
What are your thoughts at the end of this whole tragedy?
“I continue to appeal. There’s no reason to evict us, even though they want to present it as a drug trafficking case. On the night of June 25 – not two days after I was evicted – there was already a family living in my house.”
Angel Salgado, the 77-year-old stepfather, a veteran of Cuba’s revolutionary struggles, says:
“They brought over Manuel and his family. They call him “Candy.” He bends the elbow quite a bit, and I don’t mean to drink the water from the Contramaestre river, where they lived in an abandoned hovel. Other neighbors say his wife is named Belkis. Then came a young woman named Marisbel and her two kids from Camaguey. Two kids joined them in recent days.”
Confiscation? It doesn’t look that way. Relocation? That was the word used by the highest municipal authority, but forcing people to relocate to an abandoned apartment in critical condition leaves a lot to be desired.
The unfinished house on Calle 50 is an unfinished story.
Vicente Morin Aguado: firstname.lastname@example.org