14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 2 October 2022 – The night of Saturday, October 1, 2022 will be remembered in our Havana neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado as the moment we came to think of ourselves as protestors. After more than 100 hours without electricity in the wake of Hurricane Ian, only few lights could be seen in our community. In addition to numerous individual private homes, the blackout impacted multi-family buildings of twelve, fourteen and twenty-four floors, the equivalent of 5,000 people by conservative estimates.
At 9:00 PM, the exact same time that a few months ago people went out onto the balconies of these buildings to applaud the health care workers who were battling the Covid-19 pandemic, one could hear the first recognizable shot being fired: the shy, almost casual sound of someone banging a metal pot. It was like the fuse that sets off an explosion of long-repressed desire. For an hour and a half the sounds continued. Government skeptics confirmed there were many who participated; officials feared there were too many.
Most of those who obtained homes in these buildings, products of the micro-brigade system,* had to go through a rigorous screening process to determine if they had a distinguished revolutionary background. Housing distribution regulations called for applicants to be judged on how many “labor and social merits” they had earned. Inspectors also secretly noted if these applicants kept religious images in their homes or maintained relations with relatives overseas.
This meant that being a member of the Communist Party or the Young Communist League, having spent time in an overseas mission or holding an official leadership position was considerably more advantageous than having three, seven or even ten years of hands-on construction experience.
More than forty years have passed since residents of some of these buildings went through the process of acquiring their homes. In one 144-unit structure, 52 of the original owners have died, 47 have moved elsewhere and 15 have emigrated (not counting their children). Among those still living in the building who acquired their units on the basis of “labor and social” merit, the average age is 73 years.
It is true that residents were only calling for the power be turned back on. No one was heard shouting “Freedom!” or demanding those in power step down, as occurred in other neighborhoods in the capital. Still, the protest was massive and effective. Six hours later, electrical service was restored. And by dawn we were no longer the same.
If what happened in our neighborhood is an indication of what has happened in the country, if this small area is like a biopsy that indicates a broader malaise in other areas, it should be taken as a sign of the need to adjust the countdown, the one that will end the anomaly in which we live.
*Translator’s note: a form of collective, self-help construction. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43932851
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