14ymedio, Havana, April 2020. Even before hot weather starts in Santiago de Cuba, official measures to counter Covid-19 haven’t discouraged residents from going outside. The need to buy food combines with a sense that risks are low, thereby worsening the situation.
Many Santiago residents find it hard to comply with guidance in the local press to not go outside after 7 PM. The Provincial Defense Council’s resolution was announced on April 3, but pedestrians and groups were again taking to the avenues and plazas last weekend.
“People in Santiago aren’t compliant,” Luis Ponce, a young Santiago resident who runs an electrical appliance repair business. “On Saturday, the police had to come out with dogs to get people out of the parks.” In his opinion, the population has not yet accepted the seriousness of the situation.
Overcrowded housing is one of the key factors that makes Santiago de Cuba a city that lives with its doors open to the outside. “Putting the domino table in front of the house, spending the night sitting on the sidewalk to cool off, letting the kids play in the hallway, that was our life until a little while ago,” says Yampier, a young man in the San Pedrito barrio.
“The only thing to do here for fun at night is to go down to the park or stay in the barrio with your friends, but now the police want us inside the house, but there are eight of us in mine,” he says sadly. “After spending an hour cooped up in my house I can’t take it any more. If it’s not my sister’s little boy crying, it’s my grandmother complaining, or my father drunk.”
“The situation is very critical,” Nelva Ortega, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and a resident of the Altamira neighborhood, tells 14ymedio. “Food is lacking in every one of our homes, because there is a supply shortage.”
“I went out last Sunday and when I was looking for some kind of meat the only thing we found was really expensive ground turkey, and they don’t let you buy more than two packages,” the medical school graduate says. “When there were sausages, which now there aren’t, they only let you buy one package. Chicken, when they had it a few days ago, which led to kilometer-long lines, they only sold you one package.”
Ortega notes that “there were people who had been in line since the day before. At 5 in the afternoon, you can see people in line to buy for the next day. Right now, you can’t find toothpaste in any store, and when soap is for sale you can only buy two.”
A third factor is aggravating the problem of crowds in the streets. Although Santiago de Cuba Province has received major investments in recent years to upgrade the water and sewage system, water delivery is still a problem in many neighborhoods. Distribution cycles have been spread out, and in some areas, water is not being delivered once a week, as it had been.
“The situation is tending to worsen,” said Sierra Maestra, the official newspaper. But the prolonged drought has made increased use of tanker trucks necessary for Santiago residents. Long and closely packed lines in front of the tankers, as people wait to fill up their buckets and containers, create conditions for the spread of Covid-19.
In an effort to lift peoples’ spirits, official media don’t hesitate to promote natural products, such as Anamú, to fight the pandemic. Tablets produced in the Laboratorio Farmacéutico Oriente (Oriente Pharmaceutical Laboratory) stimulate “the body’s production of interferon, an essential protein to fight against different pathogens and viruses, in this case an effective measure against Covid-19,” Sierra Maestra said.
Translated by Peter Katel