14ymedio, Justo Mora, Cienfuegos, August 30, 2018 — Pedro Albaladejo arrived in Juraguá 31 years ago. At that time he didn’t have as much gray hair as he does now, nor did he let his beard grow more than five days. He was a strong young man, with a tanned complexion, who at 35 made his living as a builder.
One day he received an offer to be part of the group that was going to build “the work of the century” in Cuba: the nuclear power plant that would provide electricity to the industrial center of Cienfuegos. He exchanged his ranch in Las Tunas for a temporary hostel and ever since has lived in the vicinity of what the locals call the CEN, the ruins of the mammoth project of the National Electronuclear Plant.
“Before, this place was full of people who came to work. Trucks never stopped arriving. It was another time. The Soviet Union supported us and here there was hope that life would get better,” he says as he pastures a herd of goats among abandoned blocks of concrete.
$1.1 billion was invested in the construction of the reactor, and more than 10,000 workers, engineers, and architects worked on the project. Dozens of Russian specialists worked together with the Cubans on the projects of the Nuclear City.
Fidel Castro made an agreement with the Soviets in 1976 to build two nuclear reactors of the VVER-400 V316 type, but the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 slowed down the Russian nuclear program, and the end of Soviet subsidies to Cuba ended up paralyzing the project in 1992.
The first houses in the Nuclear City, developed in the Soviet style, were turned over in 1981. “We built these buildings ourselves,” says Albaladejo, pointing out a block of five-story apartments. Empty. “So many people without houses in this country, and here they have left a ton of apartments unfinished. That’s a crime, boy,” he laments.
Around him are the ruins of what in the past were hostels, warehouses, offices, dozens of buildings abandoned and cannibalized by the “stonepickers,” as the locals call the people who devote themselves to pulling out blocks, rods, and slabs from the ruins.
“Homeland or death! We will win! Socialism or death! Resist and win!” The old slogans painted on the buildings and the portraits of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara resist the passage of time. A completely abandoned 18-story building and various apartment blocks without doors or windows remind one of Pripyat, the nuclear city that the Soviets built nearby Chernobyl which was evacuated and abandoned after the explosion of a reactor on April 26, 1986.
“No one wants to live here. Young people leave for Cienfuegos or abroad because there’s only work here as a guard, in the private hospital, or as a teacher. There’s almost never water and in the buildings it rains more inside than out because of all the leaks,” he laments.
In the Nuclear City and its vicinity around 9,000 people live, according to the most recent official figures. After the disaster of the atomic plant, the Government created a tobacco factory and promoted agriculture as a source of jobs.
“A while ago the Government built a hydroponic facility here. They figured that we would be able to eat vegetables from there at low prices. The only thing remaining from the venture is the name because there’s not even a plot, no way,” says Albaladejo.
Yasniel was born in the Nuclear City and has never left the province. He’s 13 and has the look of someone who has already lived a lot, despite his young age. In the afternoons he goes out to fish with two friends on the pier. He dreams of having his own boat when he’s an adult, but the prices are through the roof, he says.
“I sell the fish to other fishermen, and they resell it in Cienfuegos. The truth is that there’s not much to do here. Sometimes at night I go to the Circle (a recreation center) to listen to music.”
His school is destroyed. After Irma, the last hurricane that affected Cienfuegos, pieces of windows and part of the structure are on the ground. “It [the school] is a disaster. There aren’t even teachers,” he says. Where there used to be laboratories and classrooms, there are now only piles of debris.
Yasniel says that he would like to be like the Olympic boxing champion Robeisy Ramírez, native of the Nuclear City. “That kid was a great boxer, but here they don’t give life to anyone. He did well to stay in Mexico.”
When he gets together enough money, Yasniel takes the opportunity to connect to the internet in one of the City parks.
“There’s nothing else to do around here,” he says resignedly. “Whenever I can, I chat with friends on Facebook. A bunch of people from the CEN live in the US and some were friends of mine before they left.”
Translated by: Sheilagh Carey
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