War over Swimming Pools in Viñales, Cuba

by Fernando Ravsberg

Emilia Diaz. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES – Emilia Diaz was born in the valley of Viñales, in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio. She taught in the literacy campaign when she was only 12, and then became a teacher, responding to the call of the Revolution. She has a pile of titles, awards and medals earned throughout her life.

Emilia lived very humbly until the government authorized her to rent a room in her house to tourists. Together with her son, they reinvested everything they earned in expanding and improving the house; today they have five rental rooms and a restaurant.

Ariel Rodriguez has been a member of the Communist Party for 39 years.  He was a political leader, fought in Angola and chairs the Veteran’s Association of Viñales. He also has a life full of diplomas and medals of recognition.

Ariel’s retirement pension didn’t even cover his food for the entire month, so he teamed up with his daughter and created two small hostels with a total of five rooms. The new laws allowing self-employment have allowed them to survive, grow and become prosperous people.

However the provincial government recently withdrew the business licenses of these two Cubans for the “crime” of building swimming pools in their hostels. They spent thousands of dollars, and now the authorities require them to turn them into water storage facilities or fill them with dirt.

Nearly four decades in the Party and being a veteran wasn’t enough to protect Ariel Rodriguez when the war of the pools began. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Emilia and Ariel are life-long activists of the Revolution, so they were convinced that it was all a mistake. They went to the provincial government and waited 24 hours for attention, sleeping in a park guarded by a special police brigade.

Closing pools in Viñales appears to be such a strategic policy that they are using satellite images to detect their location and have created a grandiose “confrontation team” to counter the action of these “dangerous” retirees and their families.

Those affected sought an explanation from the Provincial Communist Party office; they were told to be patient.  This scene was repeated in the National Assembly. They’ve now spent two months without income, going back and forth like ping pong balls, and they’re not alone. Emilia had employed 14 workers who are now without a job.

They knocked on all doors but couldn’t find an institution to demand their rights. “Nobody wants to get burned” with the Party and the provincial government, not even the national media to whom the information was sent.

Finally they wrote a letter to Raul Castro himself, describing their situation. They expect the president to intervene and reopen the case because they consider it discriminatory, illegal, uneconomical and, above all, very irrational.

They believe it is a discriminatory policy, because in Viñales and all over Pinar del Río there are private pools without anyone being disturbed, some of them without legal permission to engage in economic activity, so they don’t even pay taxes.

Emilia and Ariel maintain their legality on the basis of a Ministry of Finance resolution which stipulates the tax payable by the self-employed for commercial pools in Viñales, a tourist destination vital for decongesting Havana and Varadero.

Perhaps the Ministry of Tourism needs to explain to the Pinar del Rio leaders the importance of the 1200 private rooms that are rented in Viñales, a town where tourists have had to sleep in the park due to the lack of hotels.

The Ministry of Finance stipulates the taxes to be paid for having a swimming pool for commercial purposes in Viñales. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Emilia Diaz tells me that she fills her pool with her own well water and that there is no drought problem in this province. The two pools that we saw have a recycling system, which she said allows the same water to be reused for 2 years.

The Escambray newspaper asks: “If it’s a question of saving water, why don’t they prohibit all pools, including the inflatable ones sold in the State shopping centers? And why are these and other accessories imported, or pool construction authorized, if they’re going to be declared illegal?”

Ironically, once the pool is closed the owner is allowed to put up a plastic one, which in some cases are even larger and use much more water because it has to be changed every week.

If these entrepreneurs were considered part of the tourism industry, they wouldn’t close the pools, just as they don’t empty the pools at hotels and allow the construction of golf courses, which consume more water than all the pools of Cuba together.

If there’s a drought, we should close all the pools. Why only those built after a certain date? Why close the pools at hostels and allow some private pools to operate? Why do some have the right to use water and others not?

The official we spoke to at the Provincial Communist Party office said that the subject is a matter for the People’s Power Assemblies, but the President of the Provincial Assembly never returned our calls. Too many inconsistencies and secrets – something smells bad and it’s not the pool water.

3 thoughts on “War over Swimming Pools in Viñales, Cuba

  • The people living in Cuba are going to have to decide whether they wish to continue the path of destruction with the present system or make the necessary changes needed to benefit the average citizen. It will be inaugurated by social media and after watching, in full, the concert by the Rolling Stones and witnessing first hand the youth of Cuba, the changes will happen either radically or peacefully. Dictatorships generally never give an inch and it appears that’s the case for Cuba. Good luck and as a rabid entrepreneur congrats to those who are trying to penetrate the wall!

  • Correction, Playa Baracoa is west of Havana.

  • The regime is stamping on Emilia and Ariel’s private enterprise initiative, because their pools compete with the one at the GAESA owned Hotel La Ermita which is open to tourists staying in casa particulars in Vinales providing that they purchase lunch.
    Ariel now belatedly will recognize that the Castro regime is concerned with filling its own coffers, not those of the citizens.
    Filling in swimming pools with dirt or garbage is not confined to Vinales. On the coast east of Havana there is a place named “Playa Baracoa”. The regime built a swimming pool there with an enormous car park. People were employed to service both. The consequences are that the pool is now two thirds full of garbage, the car park is deserted with weeds growing up through the cracks and the people eke out an existence by keeping tethered pigs in their yards.
    A couple of kilometres further west is “Playa Salado” a “resort” for the people to enable them access to a so-called beach of fully fifteen yards width but otherwise jagged rock. When built, Cubans were not permitted access to tourist reserved beaches – a benefit reserved for non-citizens. Between Playa Baracoa and Playa Salado there is a garbage littered campground with overgrown concrete paths and employing a lady to try to stop people from entering. The huge edifice constructed to provide services has half a dozen closed cafes and a sole toilet without seat to serve both sexes. In recognition of the regime’s generosity there are huge slogans painted by the Department of Propaganda quoting Fidel, Che and Raul. But, far more significantly the shop has both rum and real toilet paper for sale – an indication of regime concerns for the “mass”. Walking further west there is even more garbage littered over another two kms. Visitors interested in seeing real Cuba will find both these playas on the maps in tourist guides.
    How could Emilia and Ariel consider competing with the standards of the regime?.

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