In Search Of The Owner Of The City / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

Camagüey is one of Cuba's largest cities and is more than 500 years old (14ymedio)
Camagüey is one of Cuba’s largest cities and is more than 500 years old (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camagüey, 21 May 2016 — Every city rests on the man who safeguards it. He can be called mayor, administrator or public official; ultimately the label is the least important. This is his charge, like the steward of the millionaire’s mansion. His obligation lies in the zeal with which he is able to optimize the performance of the city’s people. For this he counts on public economic resources and the necessary personnel.

He is, almost always—as he always should be—the ideal citizen. He is the man everyone knows, who knows everyone’s name and where they live, because, among his reasons for being, his priority is to be ready to hear the needs of the last inhabitant of the village at any time.

However, in Camagüey this citizen never shows his face, no one knows his name, or where he resides; and worse, when we assume who he is and where he is, it is impossible to address him and we can not establish a dialogue with him even through the press.

The certainty of not having been democratically elected lies in that nobody knows him. Despite his phantasmagoric existence, when he takes measures in search of “perfecting” the city, they are arbitrary and counterproductive. I have given this man the name: “The Owner of the City.”

Camagüey, despite its narrow winding streets due to its five hundred years of existence, was a city where it was easy to circulate. Dozens of traffic lights ordered the path of the cars, police officers took care of traffic violations, to the point that the least of its alleys was accessible to traffic, and both the sidewalks and the pavement were kept clean and in perfect state of repair. It is said that Camagüey once qualified as one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Above all, at any hour of the night or in the earliest hours of the morning, the citizenry enjoyed a high level of security.

The Camagüey of today is far from what it once was. The Owner of the City is pleased to close streets for the slightest reason. Martí Street, an important artery through the historic center and the main route to the east for the fire brigade, has been permanently blocked in front of Agramonte Park. An outdoor café has been placed in the street to serve international tourism, as the snacks sold there are priced in hard currency not attainable by ordinary Cubans.

Also to attract tourists, they have unearthed the rails that were sleeping under El Gallo Plazoleta, so that the visitors can see that there were once trams in the city, although the result has been too turn this into the most inconvenient and dangerous crossing—over those sharp steel strips—and on occasion bicycles and motorcycles come to grief there.

The parking lot at Merced Plaza—now called Workers Plaza—was dismantled and vintage benches have been placed around the central ceiba tree, so that those who visit us will have the most beautiful image of the place, although cars in the business center of the province now have to park on another street, under permanent guard. It seems, that the Owner of the City wants to convert Camagüey into a showcase for tourism, to the detriment of its permanent residents.

The most important streets in the center—Cisneros, Independencia and San Esteban—have been closed for many months under the pretext of repairing the abutting buildings, and Republica Street has been modified into a boulevard for pedestrians only, while San Martin Street is in such a state of disrepair that it is very difficult to travel on it, without anyone showing any interest in its restoration.

Everyone who knows this city could intuit that these being the exclusive thoroughfares of the historic center, its viability is reduced by nearly half and thus its potential, while intersecting streets are overburdened by traffic.

If we add to that the reductions in parking spaces in the plazas, forcing parking to the left of the narrow lanes in the Historic Center, this leaves only a tiny space where not even a bicycle or a pedicab can get through—the common vehicles of residents—causing heavy volumes prone to traffic jams. There are only four traffic lights in the city, three of them on the central highway. In “peak” hours traffic in the non-preferential directions suffers long delays because of this lack.

The narrow sidewalks of old Camagüey are mostly damaged, obstructed by structures placed to shore up the buildings, or by the theft of the utility covers. They are filled with dog excrement which is everywhere due to the lack of discipline among unethical people and the absence of inspectors capable of correcting the bad habits of animal owners.

People walk in the street more than on the sidewalks. No one respects the rules of circulation: not only do cyclists and pedicabs ride against traffic, but motorbikes and cars, very dangerously, do the same thing, turning the city into something very like a rural village.

More could be said of the current Camagüey. There remains much to be censored, but the shortage of publishing space makes it impossible. I am barely permitted to make a call to the Owner of the City asking him to consider these constructive criticisms and to begin his necessary labor. To ensure that this urban honeycomb shelters not only international tourism, but also its more than 300,000 inhabitants, his work is urgently needed along with more rigorous and effective attention.


Editor ‘s Note: This text was originally published in the blog La Furia de los Vientos (The Fury of the Winds) and is reproduced here with permission of the author