72 Hours to Demolition / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Inspectors arrive to demolish an illegal construction (Luz Escobar)

Inspectors arrive to demolish an illegal construction (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Havana, Luz Escobar, 26 August 2014 — Impotence and indignation has spread among residents of La Timba, in the Plaza de la Revolution municipality, one of the Havana neighborhoods affected by the Government’s war on architectural illegalities. For years, thousands of families with housing needs built additions their homes, took vacant land to expand them, or improvised makeshift parking spaces. A campaign by the authorities against this social indiscipline has put the spotlight on all these irregularities.

The Housing Institute inspectors, in cooperation with the police, travel the neighborhoods looking for these “illegalities” and, once they detect a violation, deliver an order to the homeowner to tear down every inch of the constructions put up without permission. The situation not only hurts those affected but puts the serious construction problem in the country at the center of the debate.

It is estimated that there is a deficit of over 700,000 homes in Cuba. In addition, 8.5 out of 10 existing dwellings need repairs. During the year 2013 only 25,634 units were built in the entire country, of which 47.7% were erected by the occupants’ own efforts. Continue reading

Chimeras and Frustrations / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Longing for the beach (14ymedio)

Longing for the beach (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, Luzbely Escobar, 21 August 2014 – It is a little more than a week before the start of school and the youngest at home are already taking stock of what they’ve done on their vacation. They go to sleep thinking about what they’ll tell their friends in September and in their little heads they remember each outing with their families. Although parents have few options to entertain their children in the summer, they always make an effort.

The options range from five pesos to buy an ice cream cone at the corner snack bar, to the complicated and greatly desired trip to the beach. I’ve made many promises to my little ones to take them for a dip, but I still haven’t been able to keep my promise. A trip to Santa Maria or Guanabo is like the children’s Road to El Dorado during the summer season.

A trip to the beach is a chimera. The main difficultly rests in the long lines for the bus, with its riots of boys who push in front of everyone because they don’t like to wait that long. Coming home, as if it weren’t hard enough to catch the route 400, we add the drunkenness and fights that break out in front of the innocent eyes of the children. Not to mention the abundant stream of bad words and atrocities shouted with a natural mastery from one end of the bus to the other. Continue reading

La Timba’s Ghost Bus / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Ruta-Foto-Luz-Escobar_CYMIMA20140525_0002_16Route 67 is what we in Cuba call a ghost bus. But for the inhabitants of the popular La Timba neighborhood in Havana, it’s the only public transport that leads to the city center and the historic old town. La Timbans know when it runs and even commit to memory the names of the drivers. Osvaldo is one of them and displays his National Vanguard status for his dedication to the art of driving.

In the eighties there were several routes serving this poor Havana neighborhood. During the Special Period the Ministry of Transport reorganized the service and cancelled many of them. The No. 67 remained as the only survivor. In runs from the Palatino area and usually operates with one bus on a two-hour schedule. The first bus leaves at 6:20 in the morning, taking early morning workers to their destinations. On days that are a true miracle, there are two buses which run every hour.

Some older people, to avoid having to walk with their heavy bags, wait for the single bus to travel just one or two stops. They are few and belong to a brotherhood that knows the schedule by heart. A kind of “No. 67 Club” made up mostly of the elderly who recall the glory days of their favorite bus.

Sometimes a member of the club will warn another not to wait because the bus is broken down and not running. They have contacts and use them, to find out if it already left the stop, if the driver is sick and couldn’t come to work, or if there is some technical problem that has left it back at the repair shop. In addition to their loyalty to the No. 67, they are characterized by optimism, trusting that, in the end, the bus will appear coming around the corner, with a slight sound of the horn as the doors open in front of the patient passengers.

Their fan enthusiasm even manifests itself in some outsized jealousy toward the Route 27. Originating from the same stop, this latter has been assigned additional reinforcements, evident in a larger number of buses. An indignant passenger asked about this disparity and the annoyed driver responded, “It’s that we are Palatino’s poor daughter,” and “we don’t collect as much as the No. 27, so we don’t get priority.”

The passionate users don’t understand how it is possible that the social function represented by their preferred route is not valued. Nor how in these instances the case is considered only from the economic point of view. They don’t understand because, for them, this route is part of the life of their community. It’s a piece of their environment. The No. 67, as they call it, is an essential part of the urban culture of La Timba.

Luzbely Escobar, Havana, 29May 2014 | 14ymedio