14ymedio, Serafín Martínez, Havana, 21 November 2020 — “The nights are cold and damp, there are mosquitos, rats and cockroaches.” It would seem that this mother who did not want to give her name was talking about a jail cell, but no: she was referring to an abandoned workshop belonging to the Office of the Havana Historian that she and nine other single mothers occupied last Friday, November 13, because they have no place to live.
“We have only one bathroom and there is so much dust that even the mobile phones are failing,” complains the lady, who, nevertheless, adds: “We are going to stay here until we all solve our housing problems.”
Of the 10 women who broke into the place, two were relocated by the authorities to state premises set up as halfway houses, one in an unoccupied school in Centro Habana and the other in an old warehouse in the Luyanó neighborhood, but eight remain, one of them four months pregnant, along with 11 minor children.
The humidity and poor condition of the property, located at 417 Villegas street, are taking their toll. Just a few days ago, for example, one of the babies, Aniel Pérez Fraga, five months old, had to be admitted to the hospital with breathing problems, says his grandmother, Iris Pinto, age 50.
She ended up here, like most of these women, fleeing the danger of a collapse, something that occurs increasingly frequently in the Cuban capital. “How long am I going to have my grandchildren in neighbors’ houses?” she laments.
From the same building at risk of collapse, at 426 Villegas Street, Yandira Rodríguez, 33, also left. With two children, a five-month-old and a four-year-old, and raising a 12-year-old niece, she argues: “I don’t want to die by being crushed like has already happened here. The Housing Department officials always say they are going to respond and they do nothing. What we need are solutions, not millstones.”
Igraine Pérez, 30, the mother of an 11-year-old girl, was also in a falling-down house: “I came here because my tenement is collapsing and my family is very big. We were seven people in a twelve-foot-by-twelve-foot room.”
“My daughter is asthmatic and we are both have allergies. There was a lot of humidity there,” she tells 14ymedio. “We are desperate mothers who are not here because we want to be, but because we need houses and we demand the rights that the president declared for single mothers with children.”
All these women carry a heavy story on their shoulders. “I lived in the house with my my mother-in-law, but when I separated from her son, I had no option to live there and my mother would not let me enter the house where I was born,” says 22-year-old Melani Balmaseda.
Despite the fact that the workshop does not have the conditions of a home, Balmaseda feels relieved. “In this place we get along well, we are like a big family, but there are two with nervous disorders and they get upset at night, so it is difficult to sleep.”
In some remote way, she feels that an old dream can be fulfilled: “The only thing I want in this life is to have a house, since I was 13 years old it has been my only purpose.”.
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