Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, 1 November 2017, El Cerro, Havana. Some new phenomena are taking place, products of the state’s poor management and shortsightedness.
Dwellings are being repossessed by people who are buying them legally or illegally.
I occupy an apartment with three bedrooms, one bath, a living/dining room, a balcony, and a rear terrace. It should now be the property of my brother, now that my mother, the original owner–thinking of her very advanced age–transferred the title to her youngest son.
In this apartment live three people. Not long ago there were five of us. But my aunt and my father died when they were well into their 90s. Presumably, the next in line would be my mother, who is now past 80, and after her my brother, and then I, who am 60.
During the process of changing the deed and drawing up the new and complicated property contract now required by the government, we decided to assign ownership to the youngest son.
We were left speechless and disconcerted when the notary asked us who would be the next heir after we were all gone. My mother chose to name a granddaughter who does not live with us and is four years of age.
In the apartment next door lives an octogenarian lady who was recently widowed.
She is diabetic. Already there is a distant relative who has arrived on the scene and started to occasionally look after the little old lady–and who will surely inherit the property when she dies, for I have seen notaries coming and going over there.
Residential units are ending up in younger hands–legally or through many semi-legal tricks.
There are houses in good condition that remain empty and closed up because their inhabitants are away in other countries, probably trying to get settled somewhere. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll return. If it does, well, one or another of the owners will return to sell the house at a good price.
No longer does the government take over houses left behind by those who leave the country, as was the case until some years ago. Cubans may now continue to hold the title to their properties if they return for at least a few days within the first two years of living abroad.
Those who do not sell their houses leave them in the care of relatives who rent them out to foreign tourists and forward the fees to the owners residing in other countries.
In the upcoming 2020 census, or likely before then, the ration book will lose half of its consumer base for reasons of non-residency in Cuba.
The housing shortage is not lessening, however, despite the high emigration rate and many deaths, due to the government’s chronic apathy towards seriously investing in this sector, and not allowing others to do so.
The scarcity of medicines is worsening: even aspirin is hard to find. Many medicines end up on the black market.
Last week my brother found himself having to stand in line–in the sun, from 9 in the morning to almost 4 in the afternoon–at a drugstore just to obtain the medications, such as insulin, that my mother needs for her diabetes and blood pressure, as well as cotton, alcohol and syringes.
The aged neighbor lady cannot even think of going to the drugstore that is one km away, let alone stand in line. There are no couriers. She will simply die one day soon and the family doctor will come and declare her dead of old age, and that will be that. Her case will never be studied nor will be of interest to the authorities to determine whether she might have survived a few more years with better care and medications.
ETECSA, the state-owned telecommunications monopoly, with its painfully slow and inefficient processes, is facilitating another lucrative and illegal business opportunity: it has to do with sales of the new “Nauta Hogar” [Home Nauta] contracts. Following more than a year of providing these newfangled internet connections–initially in Old Havana only–ETECSA has approved a little more than 2,000 agreements for a population of nearly 12 million. The service is excessively slow and exorbitantly expensive for local income levels, but ownership can be transferred with no questions asked. Those blessed with these benefits are simply selling them right now at 1000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly 1,000 USD). They’re on sale now on Revolico (Cuba’s “Craiglist”).
Similarly, the ownership of landlines are priced at that level on the informal market, for this system is maintained very cheaply, but for years now there has been no increase in the number of telephones distributed among the urban population, being that no new contracts are offered anymore.
Fidel Castro used to argue that mobile phones were a bourgeois luxury. Raul Castro authorized their generalized sale in 2008. Less than ten years later, more than half of the population utilizes this service, despite how extremely expensive it is.
How will the ancient rulers ever develop this country if a primary requirement of modern enterprise, be it state- or privately-owned, is efficient communication and data gathering–which Cuba is slow to adopt as official policy? An open Internet would be very harmful to what remains of Castroism. Imagine that this article could appear on the first page of the official Communist Party newspaper Granma, and that everyone, without censorship, could read works like it.
Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison