Fabian Flores  (Café Fuerte)

Overall-clad police officers cleaning the streets of Centro Habana on December 31. Photo: Tribuna de la Habana.
Overall-clad police officers cleaning the streets of Centro Habana on December 31. Photo: Tribuna de la Habana.

HAVANA TIMES — Hundreds of National Revolutionary Policy (PNR) Police officers were mobilized with brooms and dustpans to clean up the garbage and rubble-strewn streets of the capital, in response to the prolonged garbage collection crisis the city has been facing.

The overall-clad law and order officials, shoveling and transporting refuse in the capital, was a truly unusual New Year’s eve spectacle worthy of a film, as the great Rolando Laserie might have said.

The work was carried out this past December 31 in the neighborhood of Centro Habana (one of the most critical areas in terms of accumulated garbage and collapsed buildings) and involved officers and superiors from police units of Havana’s 15 municipalities, as well as workers and students under PNR headquarters.

The operation also saw the participation of representatives of Havana’s dysfunctional Garbage Collection Service and neighborhood residents. According to the provincial press, it was conducted from 7 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon down Dragones, Aguila, Neptune, Consulado and Industria streets, as well as in the neighborhoods of Cayo Hueso and Los Sitios.

Rolling Up Sleeves

“They rolled up their sleeves and went after the garbage,” the enthusiastic article published by the provincial newspaper Tribuna de la Habana reported, telling us that 4,200 square meters of streets, 14 parks and fields were cleaned up and 163 cubic meters of solid waste collected.

Poor collection service makes scenes like this common place throughout Havana.
Poor collection service makes scenes like this common place throughout Havana.  Foto: Osmel Almaguer

This is a modest contribution to the environmental cleanliness of a city that produces around 17 thousand cubic meters of garbage (between 1 and 2 thousand per municipality, on average) every day.

Though the initiative was officially presented as way of celebrating the 56th anniversary of the Cuban revolution and the founding of the PNR in a “different manner,” the truth is that it was a military response to one of the most pressing problems facing the country today.

The problem is exacerbated by rampant corruption and the frequent misappropriation of State resources that take place within Havana’s Garbage Collection Services, practices that have caused millions in losses and resulted in criminal proceedings against 60 managers and employees responsible for collecting garbage around the capital.

This was identified as a serious problem during sessions of the National Assembly of the People’s Power this past December. The urgent need to collect garbage efficiently, parliamentary members concluded, is no longer exclusively Havana’s problem. Numerous cities in the interior also have hygiene issues and are seeing the proliferation of small garbage dumps, the arbitrary handling of waste, inadequate infrastructure and unstable garbage collection services.

Lack of Direction

The debacle facing Havana’s Garbage Collection Services have left the State institution practically without qualified leadership.

At the beginning of December, in the midst of this crisis, Jose Luis Toledo Alvarez, Vice-Chair of Havana’s Provincial Administrative Council, declared that a process aimed at hiring capable personnel for the sector was underway.

The process involves interviews with former officials of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and Ministry of the Interior (MININT) who are being considered for management and other positions in the sector.

The workforce deficit has also been addressed through the hiring of prison inmates, some of whom are permitted to work at night. According to Toledo, there are in fact 40 prison inmates collecting waste in the municipality of Centro Habana on a permanent basis.

Other logistical shortcomings add to the problem. Of the 62 garbage collection trucks the city has, only 48 belong to the Hygiene Unit. Of these, 15 are currently out of circulation and the 33 remaining vehicles offer an unreliable service owing to flats, broken headlights and other damage.

Rubble Everywhere

Rubble from collapsed buildings is an everyday scene in Centro Habana.
Rubble from collapsed buildings is an everyday scene in the capital.  Photo: Juan Suarez

The situation reached such an alarming extreme that the management of Garbage Collection Services was forced to rent out means of transportation from other companies and entities in the province and use these in the sanitation of streets and neighbors (a process involving shovels and plastic containers), in the night and early morning.

It is no accident the PNR chose Centro Habana for its “clean-up initiative.” With over 163,700 inhabitants living in an area of five square kilometers, the municipality is the most densely populated area in Havana.

The problems caused by this high population density, housing issues and high levels of delinquency are exacerbated by the rapid deterioration of the area’s buildings, which add to the heaps of rubble seen throughout the municipality.

According to official figures, Centro Habana comprises 46,277 homes, 22,712 of which are in poor condition and 4,198 are reported to be in critical state. A total of 230 buildings collapse every year within the municipality.


15 thoughts on “Police Mobilized to Collect Garbage Around Havana

  • With the State as the largest employer, and salaries at an average of $20 per month, Cuban workers are effectively taxed at about 95% tax rate. That is by far the highest tax rate in the world, certainly higher than I face in my country.

    It is because of the insane economic policies of the Castro regime that the Cuban people are so poor.

  • You also pay dearly for your garbage pick up and sewer and water as well as property taxes. People could not afford that in Cuba.

  • A lack of trucks is not the real problem. The system of government in Cuba is corrupt & inefficient, so no matter how many trucks they get today, in time they will break down, spare parts will be hard to come by (stolen by workers & managers) and they will be back where they started again.

    But you are quite right, the last thing Cuba needs is more academics.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong (and correct my English) but shouldn’t the discussion here focus on garbage in the streets on the one hand , and the use of police personnel to collect it on the other? Oh no, what we get is a cock fight. ” …..my English is better than yours…., yeah, but I’ve read more books than you”. Cuba needs collection trucks and people with practical knowledge and experience of recycling. The last thing the Cubans needs are more academics.

  • Thank you, I accept your apology. I must admit to being a bit self conscious as to my prose. Try as I may to be coherent I always seem to fall a bit short. Oh well, I’ll keep on trying.

    Please know that my critisisms of Cuba are based on personal experience, not some dry academic piece or some wishful thinking as to what society should be. I’m not a big fan of Fox as I find it to be obviously political….MSNBC as well for hat matter.

    My thoughts on Manufacturing Consent stand. Chomsky should have stuck to Philology as far as I’m concerned.

    …and despite my criticisms I do find your thoughts on possible future technological revolutions and the resulting paradigm shifts to be interesting. They may one day enable your utopian anarchistic society to be possible. But even then experts in the field say it will be at least a century out…you and I will not be around to share BBQ Crow. (I won’t eat it raw)

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