A Painful Cuba Housing Story

Luis Rondon Paz

HAVANA TIMES — I hadn’t heard of any evictions in Havana or other parts of the country in a while. In my nativity, I had thought people in Cuba were forced to leave their homes only when these lacked the basic sanitary conditions needed to lead a decorous life, or that they were expelled from their place of temporary residence because they were unwittingly living in a forbidden area.

That’s what I thought until I got first-hand information that made me see these incidents in a different light and confirm my suspicion that Cuban reality is stranger than fiction.

A few days ago, I found out that a number of inspectors were looking into “irregularities” in the development area of La Taranquera, in the municipality of Bejucal (a neighborhood in the province of Mayabeque that borders Havana to the east and south) where most people build their homes through their own, individual efforts). This past Friday, January 31, these inspectors showed up at the house of an acquaintance of mine to verify the legal status of the property.

Houses built by people on their own efforts.

Everything is in order, he thought…until they left him a written document summoning him to again submit his property title to the Municipal Inspectors Office on February 3, telling him this was to decide what law (fine) to apply to him, as the temporary residence where he lives – built at the back end of the lot – does not have a certificate declaring it habitable and is thus illegal. This means he has to pay a fine or the house where he lives will be demolished.

“How is this posible?” He exclaimed. “We recently hosted the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to set in motion a new social security system across Latin America. How is this even conceivable in our country? Are you threatening to evict me? Don’t you know the situation most people are in here in terms of housing?” My acquaintance said all this to the inspectors, who are now referred to as “comprehensive inspectors.”

As my friend was telling me this story, the following words were, for some reason, going around my head: “You’re so naive, pal, you really don’t know anything about the way things work.” His story really didn’t surprise me much, even though I felt very angry about what he described.

The development area where my friend is building.

I could only agree with his opinion about the poor communicative skills of “regulative agents”, or the evictors of the 21st century.

“If they knew how to address people properly, we’d have a different situation in our hands. What many of these people are after is money, something which is the result of the system’s imperfections,” I remarked.

“They want money, that’s what they’re used to,” he said to me. “I don’t bribe anyone and I don’t let anyone bribe me. Everything I’ve accomplished here has been through the sweat of my brow. Those incompetent thieves aren’t going to rob me of anything. They’ve already come twice to my house. The third time, they intercepted me in the street and insisted I had to go to the Housing Office to consult with the director there and see what fine was applicable. ‘It’s probably a 600-peso fine,’ one of them said to me. And, to add insult to injury, he said he could help me bring down the fine to 200 pesos.”

The inspectors office in Bejucal.

“Sounds like they’re set on laying a fine on you, eh?” I said.

“Well, they’re saying that everything will be cleared up on Monday and they’ll decide what infraction to apply to my case. They actually don’t know what to do with me, because I refuse to allow them to intimidate me,” he concluded.

From what this friend tells me, cases like these are very common in Bejucal – something to be expected from the prevailing administrative disorganization and corruption, which entails unscrupulous and opportunistic officials set on stepping on working people who build homes through their own efforts.

To be continued…

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