Hablemos Press, Mario Echavarría Driggs, Havana, 17 August 2015 — “A painted old lady; they’re painting her up so that Kerry and Pope can see how pretty Havana is,” were the comments from Luciano, a newspaper vendor in Havana who was marketing his merchandise on the corner of Reina and Escobar, in the Centro Habana borough.
For some weeks now, various brigades associated with the state-run construction companies ECAL, SECONS and others that fall under the National Assembly of People’s Power, have placed scaffolds along Simón Bolívar Avenue, which is popularly known by its pre-Revolution name, Calle Reina (Queen Street).
These platforms occupy the sidewalks and part of the street, and provide little or no protection to traffic and pedestrians. From high above, the workmen are painting—their paint and tools in hand—poised above a flimsy metal strip.
“We make our wages according to the total assessed value of the building. I make about 600 Cuban pesos per month,” says a young stonemason while applying a fine cement mix to the Campanario Street wall.
On this crusade against decay, they have placed scaffolds at the entrance to Sacred Heart Church, as well as a completely renovated façade between Escobar and Campanario streets, which covers the ruins of what once was a building.
The workmen are only going with the flow of that attitude that is so generalized on the Island, that of “making do,” despite the potentially dangerous and contingent nature of the scaffolds.
These structures are no less threatening to passersby. The same goes for the garbage containers that they use to block off the work areas. We are talking about a very busy street, home to many schools, eateries and office buildings.
It is common to find a workman interrupt his usual tasks to warn of the danger: “A rock or paint can could fall from up there—even tools—or, God forbid, a man!”
Still and all, the laborers make the effort to earn their few pesos from ECAL—which, although not much, help them to “make do”—while they fix up run-down Havana for the eyes of Kerry and Pope Francis.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison