Havana’s Sickness

Havana looks sick. Dirty, stinking, clogged with waste. It seems like a lie to call it a marvelous city. (BDLG)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Laidi Fernandez de Juan, Havana, 7 June 2018 — Havana looks sick. Dirty, stinking, clogged with waste. It seems like a lie to call it a marvelous city. When I walk around the city, an immense grief replaces the contemplation of its most sacred buildings, those that we used to show to others as an example of our architectural eclecticism.

Instead of pointing out: “Look at the beauty of art deco,” “Look at those nineteenth-century gates,” “Those decorative lances that point to the sky are called guardavecinos (neighbor guards),” “There are no portals in the world comparable to these,” we make our way around hills of trash, we avoid walking under balconies whose miraculous static is an imminent threat, and, worst of all, we must cover our noses and mouths, because flies swarm, and an unbearable stench greets us in many blocks.

As a sign of indolence bordering on impudence, I come across signs that say “Do not throw garbage. PNR (People’s Revolutionary Police)” which are barely visible because they have been buried by empty cans, the remains of toilets, broken flower pots, wet cartons, mattresses that have lost their springs, and other debris. The trash bins, their original covers missing and overflowing, adorn the corners or the middle of the street: macabre decorations.

The neighborhood of El Vedado, so noble, wooded and magnificent, is a part of the mess. Its sidewalks, cracked and with holes big enough to swallow Moby Dick, aggravate the walker and offer nothing but danger. Aside from the displeasure it is all proof of how little we care about anyone. Or, to be more exact, how little we care for ourselves, how weak is our self-love.

Canine droppings force us to constantly avoid nasty mounds, which, if you count the potholes, roots, garbage, and cracks in the street, instead of going for a walk to ward off daily tensions, we are burdened with new discomforts. Far from motivating us, it makes us depressed to tour the neighborhood. It is not the recommended endorphins that flood us, but rather unpleasant odors, pitfalls and sounds. We can’t ignore the frightful noise that assails us, in sync with the stink of dead animals and the vision of a city that appears to have been bombed.

In Havana there is no shoe that can resist the attacks of the pavement, no skeleton that can stand up to the zigzags required to walk, no olfactory cells that do not ache, no ears that can withstand the decibels of reggaeton, no retinas that can block the pain of the images that assail the pupils.

In the end, the heart shrinks. Because we do not love each other. Because nobody seems pained by so much injustice, and because we always believe it is not our fault. And while it is true that there is nothing we can do in construction, concrete, sand, cement and bricks, it is also true that we are responsible for the repugnance, the dirt, the open filth, and “what someone else did” that we try to shield ourselves from.

And no matter how much it hurts to admit it, the only thing that seems cared for is that space where some private business has planted their sign. Some in doubtful taste, others laudable, perhaps overloaded with lights or soberly adorned, the stretch of a block that leads to the creation of a private business, the work of someone self-employed, is clean and sown with flowers. Like a city oasis those few square yards remind us that we are in a city and not on a battlefield.

And that is when we ask ourselves, is this the only way to rescue our magnificence of yesteryear. Is this how we will protect the legacy of a marvelous city? Or will we succumb to grief, reluctance and apathy?

Today, Havana is almost a nightmare from which we have a civic duty to awaken once and for all. Because this is our cradle, our house, our foundation. We must wake up to love Havana, before it reaches its five hundred years so sick, so absorbed in this unforgivable oblivion.

This text was initially published in the Boletín del Centro Pablo.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.