by El Toque
HAVANA TIMES — On Monday April 30th, an order was given to close down the gym. Taking to the street to do their workouts, like they do every day, was how the owner and the club members chose to respond to this injustice.
Located on the grounds of the Hotel de la Villa Panamericana Hotel, in East Havana, the Panamericano Gym Club was closed because a self-employed person can’t be seen at a state-run facility.”
That’s what the authorities told Manuel Navarro, who is the trainer and soul of this Crossfit project, when he asked why he was being kicked out after working there over the past few years, in a space which had been “falling apart” that he transformed.
This mobilization of gym-goers out into the street is a way of expressing their unhappiness and not accepting this decision. They are demanding to exercise there. Their struggle takes place outside of the Hotel and on social media too.
Neudis Nunez, a resident from Old Havana, is one of the young people who has joined this public display: “we are going to continue exercising here until they give us a postive answer.”
“This isn’t a strike because we know that the Constitution revokes our right to strike,” the lawyer also said, but insisted: “we want the project to continue. We weren’t expecting the decision to close the gym down and we don’t believe it’s fair. It seems incongruent.”
Manuel graduated in Physical Education and is the symbolic leader of this pacific group gathered around the famous gym which is still waiting for an answer. He has been involved in “this for 25 years,” he says, “and in the past four years, he has paid over 30,000 regular pesos (CUP) in rent to the Villa Panamericana Hotel. A significant figure if you bear in mind the fact that it only costs 5 pesos per person per day.
He admits that he is stunned by the reaction it unleashed on Facebook and clarifies that he isn’t the spearhead of anything or anyone. He also adds: “It’s not 100 or 200, it’s 800 people, it’s a kind of huge family which is supporting me in the face of such injustice and they know that I’m not in this to get rich. (Just come and see the dive I live in!),” he insists, annoyed.
Frank Mario Perez, one of the young people who remains outside the gym, tells us that “when the hurricane (Irma) knocked down several aluminium blinds and broke some floorboards, personal funds were used to repair them. Plus, who is paying for Manuel’s investment in the flooring which he took on when it was falling to pieces and then transformed it into a flagship gym?”
“It isn’t fair, this place is the definition of health, sacrifice, a will to fight, to live a better life and to have strength to take on everyday challenges. A place where people from all over Havana used to gather, we need to make our voices heard. People who work there, our teachers, are already a part of our families and they deserve to be respected for their work and dedication,” Flavia Torrente said.
The truth is that “people are outraged” and what am I going to do? Manuel asks: “we’ve only been wearing our hearts on our sleeves.”
Meanwhile, he is waiting for East Havana’s municipal government to respond, an authority he went to in order “to go down the ‘right channel’.” He says that People’s Power representatives in the area are supporting him.
“I went to see the government because they owe me an answer according to the social work I have done,” he said. INDER, National Sports Institute, selected me as the best sports activist in East Havana, he says when listing his merits.
This man has made his gym available to national Mountain Bike and Water Polo teams. Without charging them or other top level athletes, even paralympic champions such as Yunidis Castillo, he says.
Between 500 and 1000 people come here to exercise, a hotel employee points out, worried about his name appearing in this “interview”. He says they come from many different places: La Lisa, Luyano, Old Havana, San Jose de las Lajas…
For now, after a meeting with Manuel and specialists from the hotel’s Commercial and Human Resources team was cancelled, there’s one more step he can take: meet with “People Council representatives”.
If an answer still doesn’t come, if a long list of bureaucratic actions don’t resolve the matter, the trainer already has his eyes on another alternative. “I’m fighting for an abandoned warehouse. It’s a dump which doesn’t belong to the hotel. I wouldn’t want to go to the hotel anymore,” he asserts firmly.
“We have seen another space in front,” Frank Mario points out, “but we want something that is certain, not for three years to go by and the same thing happen.”
Some questions still need answers for gym-goers: what was the meaning of closing down this space? And why can’t a self-employed person hold onto their business within a state-run space, which he rents and pays a reasonable price for, or at least agreed between both parties?