Police Mobilized to Collect Garbage Around Havana

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

  • January 13, 2015 at 8:11 am
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    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.

  • January 12, 2015 at 10:00 am
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    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.

  • January 9, 2015 at 9:17 am
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    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.

  • January 9, 2015 at 5:53 am
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    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.

  • January 8, 2015 at 7:19 pm
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    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)

  • January 8, 2015 at 11:02 am
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    I sincerely apologize for correcting your English .
    I was unaware of your background and in your otherwise very literate posts, the exceptions stood out.
    You’d be amazed at how much better your English is than a huge percentage of native U.S. people.
    As for constantly citing the same references and books;
    I have read and viewed massive numbers of books , articles and other sources of info on the net for about 50 years now .
    I have had the opportunity to have time prove these works out to be true and the best sources for factual information that stands up to this day.
    According to several recent studies, the people on the erroneous right will always refuse to look at facts that contradict their deeply-held beliefs and when confronted by undeniable fact will block out that fact and retreat ever deeper into the comfortable fictions that are intrinsic to their feelings of self-esteem .
    As a result, these people will always come back with the same set of fictions, the books I recommend have obviously gone unread or are criticized using reviews of the book by those who oppose the thoughts in the book.
    I can only repeat the sources to the people who insist on ignoring them .
    You’d really need to read “Manufacturing Consent ” in its (admittedly dry) entirety to get the subtleties of how self-censorship works in the corporate media .
    If Chomsky is nothing else , he is deadly accurate on his facts which is why no one on the right dare debate him .
    It’s not a government or media conspiracy but just how money determines what is published and I think you are missing the forest for the few trees you noticed. . .
    Over time, the thinking and the editorial policies of the corporate media became ossified, suffering the death of journalistic integrity in a death of a thousand cuts.
    No major network media figure can rise to that level without completely adhering to the already set-in-place way of thinking and writing.
    I can certainly generalize as to what sources you utilize to form your opinions since some 95% of the media is corporately owned and dominate all thought in our societies. It is not a wild assumption if I can take what you’ve posted in the past as evidence .
    I also note that those who are in opposition to what I think and believe are very reluctant to share their sources and the few times they have , they’ve provided things like ”
    “The Black Book Of Communism ” and other risible and non-academic sources.
    As said, I’ve studied this stuff for close to 50 years and I have my thoughts on those things I choose to write about but first and foremost what I look for is someone to prove me wrong .
    I need and want to test what I have come to believe in that time much as the scientific method would dictate.
    My thinking, my belief systems center on democracy/majority rule from the bottom up ..
    If you oppose democracy I want you to prove to me , tell me why you think it is not the best way to go in government, in the economy , in our lives.
    All else is idle chit-chat in my eyes.
    Thanks
    ,

  • January 8, 2015 at 8:41 am
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    One can always make comparisons. There are some big differences between Canada and Cuba, but there are some similarities. For one, we both share the same large, noisome neighbour.

  • January 7, 2015 at 2:06 pm
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    English is not my first language so I thank you for correcting my grammar. Although as someone who hates fascism (as you’re always saying) you certainly look like a grammar Nazi to me. Besides, those engaged in this type of pedantic behavior have already lost the argument.

    Now to the point at hand. the purpose of a media company, as you correctly point out, is to make a profit. However for the most part the actual news that is published is correct. They would be shooting themselves in the foot were they to do otherwise; especially in todays fragmented publishing, environment replete with both online and print publications. You only need to turn on the news or open a newspaper to disprove your comments. News articles come out on a daily basis with news that is critical and embarrassing to major advertisers. One that comes to mind, that address your comment about profit, is a series of news articles, published some years ago in the Miami Herald, critical of a major local developer and the suspect “Chinese Drywall” they were using in homes throughout the US. Ultimately the newspaper lost quite a bit of revenue over those stories as the advertiser pulled out of the Herald and it’s affiliate publications around the country.

    As it relates to one of your favorite books, Manufacturing Consent, a so called “damning critique” of the American media, it’s nothing but a self serving propaganda piece. In fact it would be wrong to describe it as a “damning critique”. That would be to ascribe its arguments some credibility. Instead, what the authors, Noam Chomsky and Edward Harman, present is an ill-informed, exaggerated diatribe against the media for not printing the stories and slants that they believe to be important.

    And I take exception to your wild assumptions concerning my media consumption habits. You have no idea idea what media I consume unless I indicate such in my comments. We do however know that you put your faith in only a handful of publications (you can count them on the fingers of one hand….manufacturing Consent anyone?) as you make reference to them ad nauseum. You do realize that there are countless sources of information to be had, but no, you are stuck in your own personal echo chamber.

  • January 7, 2015 at 2:05 pm
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    English is not my first language so I thank you for correcting my grammar. Although as someone who hates fascism (as you’re always saying) you certainly look like a grammar Nazi to me. Besides, those engaged in this type of pedantic behavior have already lost the argument.

    Now to the point at hand. the purpose of a media company, as you correctly point out, is to make a profit. However for the most part the actual news that is published is correct. They would be shooting themselves in the foot were they to do otherwise; especially in todays fragmented publishing, environment replete with both online and print publications. You only need to turn on the news or open a newspaper to disprove your comments. News articles come out on a daily basis with news that is critical and embarrassing to major advertisers. One that comes to mind, that address your comment about profit, is a series of news articles, published some years ago in the Miami Herald, critical of a major local developer and the suspect “Chinese Drywall” they were using in homes throughout the US. Ultimately the newspaper lost quite a bit of revenue over those stories as the advertiser pulled out of the Herald and it’s affiliate publications around the country.

    As it relates to one of your favorite books, Manufacturing Consent, a so called “damning critique” of the American media, it’s nothing but a self serving propaganda piece. In fact it would be wrong to describe it as a “damning critique”. That would be to ascribe its arguments some credibility. Instead, what the authors, Noam Chomsky and Edward Harman, present is an ill-informed, exaggerated diatribe against the media for not printing the stories and slants that they believe to be important.

    And I take exception to your wild assumptions and leaps of logic concerning my media consumption habits. You have no idea idea what media I consume unless I indicate such in my comments. We do however know that you put your faith in only a handle full of publications (you can count them on the fingers of one hand….manufacturing Consent anyone?) as you make reference to them ad nauseum. You do realize that there are countless sources of information to be had, but no, you are stuck in your own personal echo chamber.

  • January 7, 2015 at 10:19 am
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    You are comparing Canada to Cuba ?
    So much for a rational argument .

  • January 7, 2015 at 10:18 am
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    We don’t HEAR much …would be the correct spelling of the word you meant to use.
    Also ..”If it was true …” is grammatically incorrect.
    It is a supposition and as such you must use “if it WERE true” to appear at all literate.
    FYI,
    The purpose of the corporate U.S. media is to sell advertising space and time.and as such are constrained from telling the truth when that truth would lead to a loss of sponsors.
    They are most certainly not educational organizations and
    if believe that they are in business to tell the truth , you’re naïve as well as illiterate.
    You ONLY read the corporate media so your information is suspect at best .
    Try comparing what is to be found in the daily articles at ZNet with the corporate media crap you choose to believe and learn something .
    I make it a point to always ask to be proven wrong in what I believe to be the truth .
    You, on the disinformed right with your necessary illusions must run from any such thought. .
    The media in Cuba cannot tell the truth for other reasons but from what I read in Granma they seem to tell the truth about what they publish while being careful to eliminate those thoughts that they consider harmful to their power.
    Very selective news might best describe it .
    OTOH, the corporate media tells outrageous lies that over time and as continuously repeated become reality to a public that is recognized as very ignorant of the world outside .
    It’s why the hard facts at ZNet are so indigestible , so unacceptable to people like you who have internalized the lies: the necessary illusions.
    There are two seminal works on the corporate media that you ought to read to understand all this : “Manufacturing Consent” ( Chomsky and Herman) and “Necessary Illusions” ( Chomsky) .
    You can get them used at Amazon

  • January 6, 2015 at 2:51 pm
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    I don’t know what local news sources you access but in Miami the “corporate” owned media constantly publishes pieces that expose corruption and exposes business and government scandals at all levels. However its true we don’t here much about trash, that’s simply not an issue. If it was you know the media would be all over it

    .Despite your puerile comments the truth is that the US media does, for the most part, fulfill its responsibility. ….I know John, it doesn’t fit in with your world view.

    In this country we have access to as much information as we would like. Even your leftist trash pieces are easily found online. Can you say as much about Cuba?

  • January 6, 2015 at 2:30 pm
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    Canada has a free enterprise capitalist system and reliable garbage collection & recycling programs.

    You see, there are other options available for Cuba.

  • January 6, 2015 at 1:59 pm
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    Cuba’s poverty creates these problems.
    These problems might -emphasize MIGHT- not exist were the embargo not in place to create the poverty in the first place.
    And, just for those who even think about claiming that the embargo is or ever was intended to bring democracy to Cuba, I would suggest they Google up Under Secretary of State Thomas Mallory (circa 1960) and his plan to destroy the revolution through impoverishment of the entire Cuban population.
    I would hazard a guess that there are also a great number of comparable free enterprise capitalist Third World countries that have open sewers, heaps of trash and sewage in the streets along with the millions of homeless children sleeping there.
    But then, STATE capitalist Cuba is such an easy target having been demonized by the world’s premier propaganda organization (the USA) for some 54 years.
    Were Cuba to adopt free enterprise capitalism as the U.S. is attempting to force on the island, you would never hear a word about trash heaps or other signs of poverty .
    That would give a true picture of free enterprise capitalism and that simply is not allowed in the CORPORATELY-owned media or corporately owned ( oligarchy) government .

  • January 6, 2015 at 10:29 am
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    In late summer of 2014, the garbage on the corner of Basarrate and Neptuno in central Havana had gotten so bad that the container it was in was moved up the street. The residents of the homes where the garbage was moved, then moved it back. And so it started. This conflict ended in a fist fight between residents on the same street over who should have to live near the putrid and stinking container of garbage that never got emptied. The PNR were called out and resolved the crisis by using a police truck to empty the garbage themselves. Garbage collection and beating middle-age women. Great jobs for Havana police.

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