HAVANA TIMES – The bustle coming out of number 70 Factoria Street between Corrales and Apodaca, in Old Havana, has stopped for days. On January 31, the almost hundred people who lived in the building were evicted due to the danger of collapse, a threat they had been living with for years after illegally occupying the building.
With the façade blackened by humidity alongside some areas of yellow ocher color that remind us of its former splendor, the three-story building with its stately bracing barely preserves part of the original ceilings. “This had been declared uninhabitable for a long time but the need is great,” acknowledges Carmita, a neighbor who from the opposite sidewalk fears every day “that this ruin will fall forward and cause misfortune.”
According to the woman, “all these bricks that you see down here in the doors and windows were to wall up the entrance.” In this way, the authorities of the Housing Directorate wanted to prevent the building from filling up with inhabitants again after the neighbors who lived there were evacuated when the structure became very unstable. “But they didn’t do it well, people found a way to get in.”
Despite the balconies without railings, the orphaned door and window thresholds lacking blinds, necessity meant that in a short time the hubbub of families, the cries of children and the barking of the occasional dog once again populated the place. The majority of those who settled came from the provinces, homeless people and without an identity card with an address in Havana.
Fleeing from the misery of eastern Cuba, in the hallways of the old palace they were heard talking about mushrooms, hammering a board to prevent the rain from seeping into the babies’ cribs, playing dominoes when the daytime blackout paralyzed life, and fighting, when the neighbor on one side took advantage of a distraction and moved the dividing wall a few centimeters towards the other person’s house.
Now they are gone. According to Armando, an old retiree, who this Monday wore his pants rolled up to avoid the puddles that splashed all over the street, “they took them to various shelters in San Agustín, Altahabana and Santiago de las Vegas.” Others “were returned to their provinces of origin,” he adds, although he would not be surprised if “they are taking time for things to calm down and return.”
At first, when they took over the demolished building, solidarity prevailed, but as the months passed, overcrowding and neighborhood problems raised the temperature inside the quarters. The fights and continuous scandals led Factoría 70 to earn the reputation of a confrontational place, a place to avoid and cross the sidewalk when walking down the block. Being located in the Jesús María neighborhood, fame like this multiplies.
The neighbors alternate feelings. “If it’s not for the toughest necessity, no one goes into such a place where you can’t even sleep a wink in case the roof falls on you,” says a woman who lives around the corner, on Corrales Street. “The poor people, who knows what they’ve been through, but it’s true that it got ugly here and the fights were constant.”
On the ground floor of the building, a mechanics workshop remains open that seems to defy the risks. “No, this area is not in danger of collapsing,” summarizes one of the store’s employees before entering back into an area where an impeccably restored antique vehicle in a deep pink color alternates with the wood that supports the upper floor and a immense mountain of waste and debris coming from the floors above.
The smell of waste wet with the rains of recent days reinforces the feeling of abandonment and decrepitude of the property. Outside, the old folding metal doors that once gave way to a thriving business stand with some dignity against the surrounding destruction. They no longer go up or down and they no longer safeguard bags of beans, various preserves or chocolate. They have been paralyzed by the improvised brick barrier that should have prevented people from sneaking into the building.
On the rough wall there is a name: Pedrito. Could it be one of the neighbors evicted last week? Where will he be now?
Translated by Translating Cuba