A Pigsty on Havana’s San Nicolas Street

By Ivett de las Mercedes

The San Judas Tadeo church in Havana.

HAVANA TIMES – Located on San Nicolas Street in Central Havana, San Judas Tadeo church is suffering social and state indolence, like many other institutions are. As I write, a garbage dump is growing on one of its corners. Dalia Echemendia, one of the neighbors, tells us about the sad situation.

HT: How did this dump form?

Dalia Echemendia: I don’t know the exact date, but I can assure you that garbage has been growing here for over a year, and I’m not talking about normal waste, all kinds of things are thrown out here: old toilet bowls, rubble, rotted wood, dead animals, bags full of excrement and any piece of junk you can think of. Do you know how much damage this does to the church’s image?

Just imagine, believers come from all over the country every October 28th to pay their respects to Saint Jude, the apostle of lost causes, as well as the devout that come every day to mass or to give offerings to the saints.

This is an unforgiveable insult for believers, of course. My daughter regularly says that this situation has many different meanings: is the Catholic insitution not a pigsty? Are we the loyal and foul pigs? The dumpster was originally placed next to the church. Why? Why couldn’t they put it on the other corner?

HT: How does this situation affect life in the community?

DE: It’s said that people get used to everything, but I don’t believe that. Living in front of or near a garbage dump doesn’t only affect your physical health, it also affects your mental health and the environment. Flies, the stench… they bother us all the time and you live in fear of the rats that walk about as if this were their home. When it rains, garbage is swept down the street, and I don’t need to tell you that our drains are blocked, but kids still think it’s time to enjoy themselves. Look at where the ignorance, indifference and carelessness of their parents has led us to.

Outside the San Judas Tadeo church.

HT: Why do kids think it’s time to have a good time?

DE: Well, it might be due to the needs they have living in this city. Some parents have to go out and “struggle”, as we say, to earn their daily bread and then there is the fact that apathy has been winning ground. Plus, a child’s innocence shields their eyes from the dangers they are being exposed to.

HT: But children aren’t the only ones who are at risk.

DE: No, everyone who lives here is at risk. I believe that the so-called “garbage divers” are the most vulnerable ones, as they rummage about garbage without wearing gloves and sometimes carry a bag of food in their hands. They touch everything they find in their path and contaminate everyone.

HT: Haven’t you turned to the authorities to find a possible solution?

DE: We’ve talked about it over and over again at the neighborhood CDR and accountability meetings. The parish priest has even sent letters to different bodies and nothing. Answers range from a lack of fuel for garbage collection trucks, to a lack of personnel. A few days ago, it made the news, maybe the shame of broadcasting it nationwide will help us find a solution.

HT: What happens with the food shops and agro-market produce that are in front of the Church?

DE: Well, that is a difficult matter to talk about. Firstly, because workers in these businesses earn their living there and secondly, because many of them are friends or neighbors. But it’s a hushed secret that selling something at either of these places is risky.

HT: What do you mean exactly?

DE: If rats and flies are wandering about the neighborhood, what is stopping them from doing the same at kiosks? It’s true that workers keep these places clean and many items are covered in plastic, but it’s still dangerous. Only one meal is cooked per day in many Cuban households and, in the meantime, we all go out and have a snack. We buy these snacks at one of the places that the same flies that sit on the dumpster also visit.

Walking down San Nicolas Street

HT: Cuba is a country where the media informs the population about the risks of catching illnesses, isn’t this contradictory in this case?

DE: Definitely. The press informs us about the risks of violating hygiene standards, but it’s a vicious cycle. If garbage isn’t collected from the dumpster on a regular basis like it needs to, where are residents in the city going to throw out their trash? The reality is they aren’t going to leave it in their homes, they have to take it out. It’s a complex matter, Cuba doesn’t have the infrastructure to tackle the problem, while social indiscipline and state neglect have taken over our city.

HT: What do you think the solution could be?

DE: I believe that we are at a point now where words aren’t worth anything. We have to take action now like most countries do. Can you be fined for throwing bags out on the street? Yes, but first they have to ensure that there is somewhere where waste can be thrown out and be collected. Of course, that would be the ideal case scenario. In reality, there is a shortage of trucks, of fuel too and there aren’t enough workers in this sector. I feel like we are at a dead-end. Although I like to dream about a clean city where children can play in the rain without the fear of stepping on a piece of broken glass or some rotten food.

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