Facing the Lack of Housing in Cuba, Families Occupy Empty Bodegas

Liliana Torres Ramos with her children in the building they have occupied since June. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Serafín Martínez, Havana, 27 November 2020 — Almost five months ago, Liliana Torres Ramos, occupied an empty bodega (ration store) in the Havana neighborhood of Santos Suárez with her children, a seven-year-old boy and a 16-year-old daughter, nine months pregnant. The family is now at risk of living on the street due to their imminent eviction from the property, as notified by the Mayor of the municipality of Diez de Octubre, who summoned Torres this week.

Torres, 34, tells 14ymedio that she lived in an apartment located at 162 San Julio, between Enamorados and Santos Suárez, along with six other people. The room had been declared uninhabitable and irreparable and her mother had had an eviction order to go to a shelter since 1992.

“We left desperate,” she says. In the building where she now lives, owned by the Havana Commerce Company, a family with four children had previously resided and had also been evicted by the authorities. “On 20 June of this year, I broke the bodega door, which had been closed for a year and a half, and I got in with my two children.” At night a beggar, whom Torres threw out, slept in the place.

“Shortly after occupying the bodega, Miguel Ángel, the director of the Diez de Octubre Commerce Company, arrived in a very bad humor and threatened to call the police to evict me and put me in jail. He told me that he didn’t care what [President] Díaz-Canel might have said about providing the population with closed state premises.”

The pressure continued up to this week when she received the summons from the Mayor. “He told me that he would give me 24 hours to leave the premises, that there were thousands of cases worse than mine and that he was speaking to me for my own good, to see if I understood.”

“I live with great fear that they will come to evict me, to throw me into the street with the few things that I have in life. I need help, my daughter is going to give birth and we have nowhere to live. The roof is collapsing in this place and there is a lot of humidity. Look, come in and see the pieces of the roof that have fallen in. You can’t live like that,” she says.

A Santos Suárez neighbor who preferred to remain anonymous insists that Torres is a good person who is suffering many difficulties. “We, the neighbors, help her as much as we can. She already got a contract with the OBE (Electric Company Office) to have electricity, we put the water in and we got her a water tank,” she says.

Although not all residents in the surrounding area have the same opinion. “Some have complained because now they have to run their errands at another ration store further away and they say what needs to be done is to repair this one, that this is not a place to live,” she adds.

The Diez de Octubre Commerce Company refused to make statements about this matter to 14ymedio, although a worker, anonymously, said that there is a list of the company’s own employees waiting for empty premises owned by the company to be offered to them as homes.

The housing situation is critical throughout Cuba and particularly in Havana where there are serious infrastructure problems and overcrowding. Many of the properties in various municipalities in the capital date from the early 1900s and have not received repairs for more than fifty years, not even paint on their facades.

Reinaldo García Zapata, Havana’s governor, announced to the local press on 22 November that the capital city has completed a housing construction plan for the present year, to build more than 7,000 units.


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