Unimaginable: the Big City Switches Off

Los Angeles, California. Photo: Etienne Laurent / Niu

In this era, when all seemed possible, the day came when everything was paralyzed. The unimaginable occurred: the huge city turned off and we don’t know how long.

By Jose Norberto Silva* (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – We live in an era when what was impossible for many years is now possible: food delivered to your home, home laundry services, marijuana delivered to your doorstep, online purchases delivered in a few hours, traditional taxis changed to personalized ride services like Uber and Lyft.

These things are now part of our daily lives. In this era where all seems possible, the day came when everything just paralyzed.

Jose4 Norberto Silva

Los Angeles, this city that never sleeps, has a little over four million inhabitants and is normally visited by thousands of tourists. This now contrasts with the empty streets, few pedestrians and closed shops, after the State governor announced the closure of all non-essential businesses.

Thousands of job positions cancelled, supermarkets overrun by people wanting to buy up everything they can, because no one knows what’s going to happen. The propagation of the virus increases, as do its fatal victims.

To see powerful countries like China, Italy and Spain lashed by the Coronavirus fills us with fear. A virus has appeared that we don’t know much about. We know that it originated in China, it’s very contagious and can be fatal. We never imagined that it would arrive here. There’s no vaccine or specific cure yet, only prevention of contagion at all costs. For the moment, what we’re doing is to remain in quarantine in our homes without knowing how long.

The lockdown begins to cause despair

All the schools are closed until further notice. They’re even talking about cancelling the school year. As the father of two children, this is a difficult situation. On the one hand, we have a lot of time to spend with our families, but on the other, the lockdown begins to bring desperation. My 5-year-old hasn’t been to the park to play for nearly a month, nor to any other public recreational areas. He’s begun to ask what’s going on, but we haven’t found a way to explain to him that a virus has brought humanity to its knees.

Mentally, panic weakens you. The unimaginable happened, the big city switched off, and we don’t know for how long. What we do know is that our lives have changed forever.

I worry all the time about my family in Nicaragua. I feel helpless watching the inconsistent and incompetent leaders of my country when they minimize this pandemic, verging on the ridiculous, and exposing their citizens to the virus.

It’s no secret that Nicaragua has been hijacked by a group of delinquents and unscrupulous people blinded by power, who’ve ended the lives of hundreds of civilians. With this pandemic they’re demonstrating that the thing that matters least to them is life. But since we say in Nicaragua that only the people can save the people, I hope that even without the support of the government we can get out of this world emergency.

*A Nicaraguan currently living with his family in Los Angeles, California

7 thoughts on “Unimaginable: the Big City Switches Off

  • Yes Stephen, I think that the Cuban regime will make the assumption that tourists will be content with those four Bs of Beach, Bed, Buffet and Booze, although in reality entering confinement. But those tourists won’t be prepared to do another fourteen day sentence upon returning home.
    My obvious concern is when will I be able to return home to my wife. If the regime shuts down all the casas, will they allow those like you and I to live in our domestic residences? I am doubtful.
    Did you mention freedom and Cuba in the same sentence?

  • As I wrote and you seem to agree, Cuba, I believe, will go the Canadian route and isolate tourists for at least 14 days if not longer in hotels in specific cities upon their immediate arrival. The Cuban government will not think there is anything wrong with that but I don’t know how Canadian tourists, or any tourist for that matter will accept/adapt to that notion. Will tourists be fined? Jailed? for violating the rules. Only time will tell.

    As you stated tourists, being tourists, want to explore the country and maximize their spent tourist dollar and if stationed in Varadero would want to take excursions to Havana or elsewhere. Many like to go to Baracoa on VIAZUL.

    I hope Canadian tourist operators explain very emphatically and clearly to all potential tourists that once arrived at their prescribed hotel there is no leaving the premises. What?? Here we venture into a perfect clash regarding the sensitive area of personal freedoms and liberty – a given in Canada – and complete autocratic control from foreign Cuban government tourist operators. This is just speculation; who knows what will happen? As you know, rules, decrees, laws there change without any notice.

    Hopefully, Canadian airliners will be flying in December and the Cuban authorities will have given some thought about how to best maximize their tourism revenue to allow some free movement for tourists. I am not hopeful nor optimistic about what happens down there.

  • No Stephen, I am now in Canada, although i spend the majority of my time at home in Cuba, I do so on visas. So I had the real difficulty of contacting the airline to change my date of travel and had to get out. Doing so, entailed using two taxis, going through three airports (I spent 1 hour fifty eight minutes in the line-up at Jose Marti) and two flights. That was of course followed by self-isolation (and the opportunity to provoke others on Havana Times). But also having been absent from Canada – and therefore ill-informed about the extended date, I did my tax return. Then there was the problem of how to pay, as Revenue Canada now want electronic payment not cheques, and having once been the victim of identity theft, I do not do on-line financial transactions. I tried hard, but could not contact my bank or Revenue Canada – so as always previously, I sent them a cheque and they can do as they choose.
    My wife and I talk to each other daily via facebook – and face to face, so I do know what’s going on on Cuba day by day, with ‘la familia’, neighbours, friends – and our dog whom I normally walk daily and the first time I spoke to her electronically, rolled over to expose her tummy for tickling. The main problem is in maintaining social distancing when visiting the shops – without a clue about what if anything, might be available and many who think that a mask removes the need for social distancing. Coupled with staying at home, the problems have been exacerbated by high temperatures – 32 – 35C day after day – August type weather in April.
    Obviously there will be huge economic pressure upon the regime to re-open tourism asap. Few however realize that providing medical and educational services to other countries is a greater revenue source for Cuba than tourism, and it suits the regime not to publicize that. Currently they have even more medics earning those revenues than normal, so that will partially compensate. As i have mentioned previously, in October they cut over 300 tourist guides – a huge figure if one multiples that by 30 tourists per guide, so tourism revenues had taken a big hit long before Covid. One of those former guides who is multi-lingual, is a good friend and I also remain in touch with him. But I think that the very substantial decline in tourism revenues was what caused Cuba as late as February to be promoting tourism as “Cuba is virus free.” Yes, what followed – if my memory serves on March 11, was that three Italian tourists arrived at a casa particular in Trinidad, and the very sensible hostess thought they looked a bit sick and sent them off to the medical centre where they tested positive – they were then transferred to Havana. A few days later a Canadian tested positive and then an employee from Varadero who lived in Matanzas was the first Cuban to test positive.
    Of the Canadian provinces, Saskatchewan is obviously in a favoured position – few arrive and people leave, placing it in isolation and able to re-open.
    The big question is obviously re-opening tourism and issuing visas. i suspect that Cuba may decide to place tourists in hotels only in Varadero and similar spots, and “isolate” them for their fourteen days, keeping the casas closed to tourists and maximize regime revenues – no Transtur and Gaviota trips to Havana or other spots. Fly in and out of Juan Gomez. That will still leave out you and I visiting.
    You are right about Canadian government debt. Trudeau got elected four years ago be promising a spending spree financed by debt and Canadians bought it. How long they can go on printing money, increasing debt and ensuing inflation is a conundrum for the economists.
    I am proud of only one statement in my life! It was made oddly when in the UK, to a cousin of H.M. E II, who was an accountant – long since retired. He said that: “The essence of good management is accountancy.” As one who spent his life in management, I responded: “I don’t agree, a manager is a surgeon, an accountant is a pathologist.” The pathologists will eventually tell us the size of the debt Stephen and we the taxpayers will inevitably, PAY.

  • Carlyle,

    I agree with what you wrote. I just assumed you were in Cuba. You need to wait for who knows how long to return to visit your wife? I feel for you.

    I am also in a similar situation with a Cuban girlfriend whom I have known for many years. I visit her twice a year but now, like you, I do not know when Canadian airliners will be transporting tourists back to Cuba. Like you stated: One year…..or more? Ouch!!

    And, I dread the thought, the Cuban authorities will do exactly what Canadian authorities have legislated. Anyone arriving from a foreign destination back to Canada must self isolate (i.e. quarantine) for 14 days. Anyone disobeying the legislation is subject to fines and possibly prison.

    Imagine tourists arriving into Cuba having to do go through a similar procedure. After all, the Cuban authorities will be taking extraordinary precautions with allowing tourists/visitors to come to the island after it was one (an Italian tourist) who, according to Cuban officials, brought the virus to the island and it spread from there.

    As you know Canada is so vast and wide with its population primarily concentrated in big cities around the horseshoe of southern Ontario (Toronto and area). In far flung provinces like Saskatchewan/Manitoba with rural, sparse populations the pandemic hardly has made a presence so these provinces are beginning to revert their economies back to some degree of normalcy.

    So, I based my analysis on the above premise that, the economy in some provinces will rebound and prosper in the short term.

    But, you are absolutely correct with regard to any government debt. Specifically, the Canadian government entered this pandemic with billions in debt to begin with, and now this previous debt seems like pocket change after all the financial aid the government has doled out for unemployed Canadians, relief for businesses, Indigenous handouts, student grants, etc. Necessary. But boy, hopefully a pandemic only comes once in a life time.

    I, a Canadian tax payer, will have to pay the piper for years to come, unfortunately!! As they say in Cuba: La vida no es facil . . . . . . whether in Spanish or English the saying is even more pronounced in a precarious pandemic period like today.

  • I agree with much of what you wrote here Stephen. it is noteworthy that on a per capita basis, Canada has less than half the rate of infections and deaths of the US. A high percentage as you know, of those deaths occurring in nursing homes (45-50%). i think the difference largely lies in the caring attitude that a high percentage of Canadians have for others, whereas although there are many who are similar in the US, they have the burden of the demonstrating Trumpeteers and their leader.
    I hope you are correct in saying that cities will re-bound and prosper. That I fear is going to take a long long time. The virus will possibly hang around for up to seven years (as did the Spanish flu virus), a large number of businesses are going to close permanently creating long term unemployment and debts accumulated will eventually have to be paid off. Government coffers are not bottomless.
    From a personal point of view, how long will it be before I am able to return to Cuba and rejoin my wife? One year…….or more?
    I obviously would like to be more optimistic, but then as one who endeavours to face reality and fact, that is my view.

  • The United States is certainly bearing a high human cost in this pandemic. You describe all the despair that is occurring in your city, a city always vibrant, yet now closed and empty. Your city’s pandemic predicament is no different than cities and towns throughout Canada from where I write to share a perspective.

    You describe the hardships your children face as any Canadian child must endure in that parks, pools, all recreational facilities closed to the public. Children are at home having to be home schooled by parents who themselves are overly stressed with trying to teach, some, multiple grades with new technology.

    Over 7,000 Canadians have either lost their job or have had their working hours significantly reduced. The border between Canada and the U.S. mutually shuttered preventing paying tourists from enjoying each other’s amenities thus restricting national revenue coffers. Numerous Canadian businesses have closed and will not reopen in the future particularly restaurants who rely on a steady flow of customers to keep their establishments financially viable. So, things are stark; you are correct “despair” being the operative word.

    But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Some Canadian provinces have begun opening their economies slowly with caution. Similarly, as I understand, some States are also doing the same. In the parlance of the pandemic, health officials are saying that in some areas the curve is flattening and the deaths are not as pronounced as months prior. The country’s citizens, listening to health authorities, are making the necessary and obligatory sacrifices resulting in some hope and confidence moving forward.

    Certainly our lives have changed and looking to the future we will need to be guided by measures not foreseen before. Humans are incredibly resourceful, imaginative, adaptable, resilient, so that cities be they Canadian or yours – Los Angeles – will rebound and prosper. Cities in Canada and the United States will be switched on again not necessarily reflecting their historical past, but perhaps they may – who knows?

    Unfortunately, Nicaragua, your family’s country is as you described a cause for extreme concern and worry. I hope your family is safe.

  • I wonder how long it will be before Cuba switches off the lights?

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