14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 January 2019 — The music in the bus is deafening, the screeching noises from an illegal autorepair shop leak out through the windows of one building, and in another block the screams from a kids’ playground don’t leave the neighbors any peace. Havana is a shrill city and not even the complaints of the victims or the legal regulations manage to put the breaks on so much noice.
Despite legislation that prohibits “producing sounds, noises, smells, vibrations and other physical factors that affect or may affect human health,” the more than two million residents of the capital can seldom enjoy peace and the silence. The noise pollution is everywhere.
“When I want some quiet I leave the city because here, when it’s not cars, it’s loud music or shouting,” 14ymedio hears from Manuel, 44, who lives in Havana and has a small yoga studio in his home. “Sometimes I can not concentrate and I have to go to the Botanical Garden to be calmer.”
Manuel feels “fortunate” that his building on Marino Street, in the Plaza de la Revolución municipality, “is not one of the noisiest.” Luck that is not shared by the residents of N Street between 23 and 25, who have been engaged in a tough legal battle for years to move an amusement park which is right under their windows.
After several complaints at different times and reporting the din from the play area on social networks, the neighbors of that building decided to make their anger visible and hung a cloth outside one or the windows where their demand can be read: “On this Boulevard, capital [i.e. money] matters more than the welfare of the community, enough is enough!” says the message that is visible from the street.
The building adjoins the so-called Boulevard D’25, an old state parking structure for vehicles converted into an area for renting spaces to self-employed workers. The building houses cafes, restaurants and craft shops, but the main attraction is an area with huge inflatable devices for children.
The area fills up on weekends, due to the few recreational options for small children in the area. “That’s when the problems begin because there is very little distance between the games and the nearest building,” a neighbor from the area who preferred anonymity told this newspaper. “It was a bad idea to install that amusement park there,” she says.
In the official press the problem of noise in the streets and buildings is frequently addressed, but most of the time citizens are held responsible. Criticisms of state entities that generate this type of environmental pollution are rarely addressed in newspapers or on national television.
Liane Cossío, one of the neighbors of the building, reported on the Facebook page for Neighbors of La Rampa — specifically created to denounce this type of situation — that about a year ago, “after much waiting in vain for an answer from the Government,” the neighbors of the building affected by the noise went to the management of the Department of Supervision and Control to complain.
The person they spoke to was direct: “If that park were in the courtyard of a house, we would have removed owner’s license after the first complaint from the neighbors,” but “is there with a permit from the Government and we do not have any way of telling the Government that is badly located.”
However, the insistence of those affected was almost about to pay off. An employee of the playground told 14ymedio that last June “the order to came to collect all the apparatuses for children.” Something she regretted because it is the time of the year when the most profits are made, however, as of December it is open again.
Elsewhere in the city, a park in the Playa municipality near the Casa de la Música, means the closest residents suffer the same sound attacks. A Wi-Fi hotspot has been operating in the park for a couple of years and now dozens of customers come every day to connect to the internet.
“Even very late at night there are people who come with portable speakers and turn them on at full volume,” says Rosendo, a retiree who lives across from the once “quiet park.” “Sometimes people also come out with a few drinks from the Casa de la Música and sit on a bench to sing and shout all night.”
Such behavior can result in the offenders being fined up to 200 pesos, but Rosendo complains that when the police number is called to report shouting or the volume of a loudspeaker “they rarely send a patrol out to control the situation.”
Between January and March of last year more than 13,700 “noise promoters” were fined as part of a government strategy to reduce the high levels of noise pollution, but the problem is so widespread that it barely served to lessen it.
The residents of Rosendo have devised a strategy to get the police to come when they call for noise: they complain that some individuals are shouting slogans against the Government. “When we say that, they immediately send several police officers.” But most of the time “the speakers blare until dawn,” he laments.
Experts say that the human ear is prepared to “receive sounds from nature which are rarely recorded any louder than 60 decibels,” but in Havana noise levels are reached that not only affect the auditory system, but can also be the cause other diseases.
Excessive noise is associated with an increased risk of heart attack, as well as with other symptoms such as ringing in the ears, hearing fatigue, dizziness and stress. The World Health Organization reports that noise above 80 dB increases the aggressive behavior of individuals.
Although Havana resonates in all corners at almost at any time of the day, the most frequent schedule for these infractions is “the evening and late night, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, consistent with people’s times of rest,” according to a official report. Rosendo knows this well: “Here you can not sleep through the night,” he says.
During the day, the pensioner gives a nod from the doorway of his house, while a few yards away some teenagers hum the latest reggaeton accompanied by a powerful wireless speaker about 15 inches high.
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