By Pilar Montes
HAVANA TIMES — Within the internal and external setbacks which the Cuban people have experienced in the last 60 years, physical and mental changes are being seen in language and daily tasks which make the most optimistic of us see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
I’ll begin by talking about the components of our daily diets. Although eating healthy still remains out of the reach of retired people and the majority of workers, the application of better farming techniques can be seen in the size and quality of fruits and vegetables, as well as in the more efficient organization of transporting food to the final customer.
Malpractices are no longer so hidden, abuses in markets via “fixed” scales in favor of the seller and keeping prices high when food is going off or isn’t of the necessary quality, are being shown on news reports on the TV, radio and in the written press.
Journalists are exposing contradictions in the government’s responses to situations, making the ridiculous and derision into a public topic of conversation.
Reports on the Marianao market and the 12 story building located at the Esquina de Tejas particularly stand out. In the former, sellers were seen quickly picking up onions and tomatoes which appeared off, with prices corresponding to 1st class products still on the signs.
The reporter said that the seller did this because he saw the TV cameras coming, while ridiculing the market manager who didn’t know how to answer to the cutting reporter.
With regard to the building on the central Havana corner, cracks were shown in the walls and when builders were asked where the materials were (windows, doors, floor slabs), which had been brought to restore it, they said that everything was being kept in the basement. However, the images only showed flooded spaces with a few slabs in the alleged storehouse.
Days later, at a parliamentary session, the Ministry of Construction celebrated the laws approved placing demands on construction work, such as that of certifying every completed floor before moving on to the next one, a requirement which is frequently violated and responsible for later demolitions with the loss of resources that this implies.
Another touchy subject is that of Cuba’s housing situation nationwide where the same pre-Revolution deficit continues, at least a million homes are lacking. Meanwhile, the majority of current homes are classified as being in a regular or poor state.
Private sector is contributing to progress
The activity of private renters and independent building brigades particularly stand out in environmental improvements and urban upgrading projects, especially in high-demand tourism areas.
Foreign investment, which has been attracted by incentives in the Mariel Special Development Zone and real estate and hotel sectors, expect a tourism boom on the island.
The Old Havana municipality and small cities such as Vinales in Pinar del Rio and Trinidad, are signs of the private sector’s work, not only in renting out accommodation, but in other tourism services such as providing walking paths as well as horse riding routes with local guides who know the flora, fauna and history of these places.
In the recent publication of a study carried out by US experts for the Brookings Institution and Florida’s FIU, Cuban communities where the private sector bear the brunt of tourism facilities and attention to foreign visitors, came to light.
For example, in Vinales Valley and the town of the same name, declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site because of its beauty, the private sector manages 1600 rooms, compared to the State’s just 200 rooms in hotels.
With regard to dining services, private restaurants amount to 77, compared to only 8 in hotel chains.
Vinales is a municipality in the western province of Pinar del Rio, whose local government has organized a “Tobacco Route” with tours of plantations of this aromatic plant, rural homes, drying huts and factories where handmade cigars are rolled by the skilled hands of Cuban men and women.
Other tours in high-demand are the “Slave Route” and “Coffee Route”, the first in Trinidad, in Sancti Spiritus province and in Matanzas, where the ruins of old sugar factories and slave barracks stand. The tour of coffee plantations has been developed in Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo, where French landowners who fled from Haiti because of the revolution there in the early 19th century and settled with their crew of slaves brought to Cuba to cultivate coffee and cocoa.
The Cuban government can no longer view the private sector as a “necessary evil” like it did before, but rather as part of the same project.
Calling for controversy and dialogue
“The truth comes from controversy and not from everybody thinking the same,” a journalist said when she was interviewed on the “Una vez a la semana” TV program hosted by Cristina Escobar, whose guests are prominent figures in the official media.
TV ads being used these days show Ernesto Che Guevara working shirtless in building work and handling thread in a textile factory, a return to footage from more than a half century ago. These also include fragments of Che speaking about youth, claiming that “youth is a time for creating (…) of debating and even dissenting against what has been said, regardless of who said it…”