Havana Streets: Veritable Minefields / Iván García

Havana has the prices of London and the infrastructure of Zimbabwe. Life is as expensive as in Madrid or Berlin, and the streets look like those of Bosnia after its civil war.

The state of Havana’s streets is pathetic. Particularly the secondary and interior streets of the city. At the corner of Milagros and Diez de Octubre, in the La Vibora neighborhood, there’s a hole like one that might be left by a 500 pound bomb.

Rene, 45, nearly lost his life in this cavern. On rainy night he was driving distracted, when suddenly the car, a ’56 Ford, that has weathered thousands of battled and millions of kilometers, was caught in the trap in the middle of the street.

“It was terrible. I couldn’t see the pothole as it was underwater. The car fell almost six feet into the hole. The crash was very violent. I lost consciousness and got a hole in my head, they had to give me 23 stitches. The car was totaled,” he related three weeks after the accident.

Many streets and even stretches of the National Highway are a clear demonstration of the state’s neglect of road maintenance. Real landmines, for the damage they do to the cars.

Ask Luis, a Spanish tourist passing through Havana, how many tire blow outs his rental car has suffered due to the state of the roads. “Man, it’s horrendous. And then, to make it worse, there’s nowhere to put air in the tires,” he says in disgust.

The government invests millions of pesos in the repair of certain principle arterials. But the repair work is poor quality. In a few months the streets are full of potholes again.

The number one enemy is the breaks in the water pipes. When it gets dark, a great number of streets seem like real rivers, where the water is lost to the streams. Meanwhile the propaganda on TV announces that we have to save the precious liquid, every night about 60% of the drinkable water doesn’t make it to its destination, because of the deterioration in the capital’s water system.

This water that runs extravagantly though the streets of the city is a ticking time-bomb. The famous Havana potholes have caused numerous accidents. Sometimes, trying to avoid them, drivers cause fatal crashes.

Take note. Traffic accidents are the fifth leading cause of death in Cuba. Even though the density of traffic is nothing like in the great European cities, the number of deaths and injuries is skyrocketing.

The government tries to solve the problem. And since August 1 they have enacted a law demanding road safety. Not bad. But first they have to repair the streets of the city; compared to them the streets of Zimbabwe have nothing to be jealous of.

September 15, 2010