14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 23 August 2023 – The umpteenth renovation of Boulevard de La Habana is beginning to show its wrinkles. The make-up of triumphalism with which many bars were reopened on this pedestrian precinct on Calle San Rafael has been fading with the passage of months. The blockages in the plumbing, which became the hallmark of the place for years, have returned in a number of shops and businesses, and in the public toilets – the only ones available in the area.
“It’s like a curse, they fix them, make them nice and then they all get destroyed again”, laments Evaristo, a pensioner who was born here and has spent his life on the corner of San Rafael and Águila. From his balcony he can view the whole street, which is daily one of the busiest in the whole country. Evaristo has watched the Boulevard deteriorate for decades, later seeing it fill up with potholes then the arrival of construction teams for the fifth centenary celebrations of Havana in 2019, and now he feels the impact of the current crisis on its infrastructure and its people.
Although the painted facades are “enduring”, another resident tells 14ymedio, the cafeterias, which began the post pandemic period with vigour, have reduced their range or have been dragged down by the wave of inflation which has made many products prohibitive. The advertising screens which at one time generated some surprise there on the pavements are now all switched off and the previous smell from the drains has come back to permeate the area once again.
The worst deterioration can be found if you decide to go into the public toilets situated on the street linking Calle Galiano with Paseo del Prado. After paying 5 pesos, you’ll find that the hand basins in the gents don’t work and that there’s a piece of card with crude letters saying that it’s “broken”. The toilets smell bad, the toilet-bowls have no water and the walls have been painted in a way that resembles the inside of a prison cell.
On leaving the narrow and stinking toilets, the poor pedestrian would hope for something better outside. But no. There he will have to navigate: the greenish and stinking puddles that spring up in the corners of the boulevard, the balconies, painted but still in danger of collapse, and the stench of rubbish coming from the old shop End of the Century, closed down years ago. During this little journey he’ll have to watch his pockets and speed up his step to get out of the place. From his vantage point, Evaristo will follow him with his gaze until he disappears down some side street.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso
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