Cuba, Dog Time

These are the Dog Days.  With the fine and constant rain and the overcast sky the color of a gray mouse.   Likewise, a freezing cold.  We throw to one side in this January of the new year the postcards of brilliant sun that show us a happy, festive, and warm city.

Since January 1st, the first serious cold front entered the capital, the streets of Havana have become a carnival of poor people.  A population accustomed to an annual average temperature of more than 27 degrees Celsius is not used to having adequate wardrobe items to tolerate low temperatures.

The solution for many is to layer items of clothing over each other.  Three, four, and up to five, and to top it off, a sweater, with gloves and an old coat.  It’s nothing compared to the intense snows in Europe, Canada and the north of the United States.  But for the Habaneros, Sunday, the 10th of January, was frightening.

Too much cold for a tropical city.  The wind chill was 8 degrees.  The people look like inflated balloons with so much clothes.  The most humble protect themselves from the cold with jackets from the era that Cuba traded with the CAME, more than 30 years ago.  Some dusted off wool sweaters and jackets, used by fathers and grandfathers before Castro came to power.  The most elderly and needy garnish themselves with overcoats like those used by Humphrey Bogart in his films.  The children and youth were also disguised.

The streets are deserted.  The beggars and demented that have made the doorways on the corn er of Carmen and Calzada streets their home since the 10th of October, had rushed to less frozen spots. What blew through this corner wasn’t a friend.  According a neighbor, vehicles from the public health division recognized the beggars and interned them in the Psychiatric Hospital,  an asylum more commonly known as Mazorra, located on Rancho Boyeros, halfway to Jose Marti International Airport.

I’m not sure if it is true.  The people from the capital have a tendency to exaggerate.  What *is* true is that in these “polar” days, many bakeries have closed due to lack of flour.  You see, bread, like rice is a primary necessity in the current diet of the Cuban.  The state ration card grants us a miserable bread roll of 80 grams per person.  Then, people head to the bakeries of the Cuban Chain, where in the free market, one can buy half a flauta of bread for 5 pesos, and for 10, a whole flauta.

The administrator of one of these establishments commented “that several bakeries that offer free sale of bread have closed because of a shortage in the distribution of flour, because the government has reoriented it to prioritize rationed bread, that sold on the ration book.”  Outside, a long line of people wait for an hour hoping to leave with bread.

With the cold hunger rages.  And with a half-empty fridge, the most common thing is to buy bread and eat it with anything.  It may be jam, if the family is “wealthy”, or with tomato, tortilla, oil.  Or just dipping it into coffee, or milk, something those under 7 do, the only ones the State guarantees a daily quota of milk to on the ration book.

Pablo Pacheco, 30, independent journalist condemned to 20 years in prison in the Black Spring of 2003, told me by telephone from Canaleta, the prison in the province of Ciego de Avila where he is serving the unjust sentence, the temperature fell to 7 degrees Celsius.  “The prisoners wrap themselves in two or three quilts, and even so your teeth are chattering like castanets.  Add to that there is little food and it is terrible,” he told me.

Due to a lack of adequate clothing and of a hot breakfast, many families in Havana have stopped sending their children to school.  In my daughter’s classroom, of 20 students, there are six or seven students, no more.  In the rest of the country, where even the cold is more intense, the school situation is the same or worse.

The lowest temperatures report up to now, according to the Meterological Institute, have been at the Jose Marti International Airport, in Havana (3.7 degrees Celsius);Isabel Rubio, Pinar del Río (4,0); Tapaste, La Habana (4,2); Aguada de Pasajeros, Cienfuegos (5,0); Bainoa, La Habana (5,2); Batabanó, La Habana (5,4); Bauta, La Habana (5,5); Güira de Melena, La Habana (5,9); Güines, La Habana (6,2) and Santiago de las Vegas, Ciudad de La Habana (6,5). In Jucarito, Granma province, considered the hottest place in the Cuban arh=chipelago, the thermometer reads 12.7 degrees!

Although these January days, with the gray skies and cold have dominion over the landscape of the entire Island, the star meteorologist of the Island, Jose Rubiera, calms the innumerable rumors and affirms that the temperature has never fallen under 0.6 degrees Celsius, as happened in 1970, in all the national records.

Nothing to do.  Little bread and a lot of cold is not healthy.  And what’s worse, without sun.

Iván García