14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 19 July 2016 — “I pledge that very soon you will have your homes,” Carlos Lage Davila, vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers, said in 2002 to those who had lost everything and still today have not received what he promised.
Alexander Sanchez Villafranca, 33, was one of those affected by Hurricane Isidoro. “If I had listened to my mom and had cut down the mango tree, I would not be in this shelter. I never thought that the wind could pull it up by the roots,” he says. His home, at kilometer 1 in Santa Damiana, was reduced to rubble under the weight of the tree. He is among the 16 families living in shelters in Portilla in Rio Seco, in San Juan y Martinez municipality, as a result of Hurricanes Lili and Isidore.
The place, 19 kilometers from Pinar del Rio, had been a military unit of the Youth Labor Army (WCY), then in 1994 became a Battalion Task Force that housed those who came to support tobacco workers, and in 1995 it became a warehouse for oilcloth.
In 2002, after the hurricanes, they used it to receive the victims from Santa Damiana, Forteza and Rio Seco, who had no means to rebuild their own homes. Within a month of being there, they received a visit from Carlos Lage Davila, accompanied by former first secretary of the Party in the province, Maria del Carmen Concepcion, and other government and party officials.
At first, the mass organizations delivered lunch and dinner to residents, who were seen by a family doctor daily. Then-delegate Sergio Carrelegua visited them frequently and at meetings urged them to be patient and assured them that the promises would be fulfilled. “A few months later the attentions and promises disappeared,” recalls Sanchez, now married with a daughter of six who has known no other home. “Over time the roofs began to deteriorate and the solution from the delegate was to remove the roofs over the bathrooms and use them to replace the broken tiles over the bedrooms, so the toilets have no roof.”
The situation gets worse in the spring because of the rains, and for the elderly, whose health is delicate, dampness is a greater risk. “In the rainy season you have to do everything (even the physiological needs) in your bedroom,” says an old woman to illustrate the “hell” she is living in.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to the municipal government to demand that they help us, but they don’t do anything,” says Arelys Rodriguez, Sanchez’s wife, while showing off the poor hygienic-sanitary conditions of the outdoor bathrooms. “I have to carry water from the neighbors’ house, because the raised tanks are uncovered and are filled with decomposing frogs, bats and even pigeons. I’d die before I drank that water,” she says with disgust.
Sanchez talks about his effort in agriculture, the work he does as a laborer, hoping that a relative living in the United States will help get her out of the hostel and he can buy a house. Meanwhile, her little daughter Thalia flits around her. That little girl, with her innate curiosity and boundless naiveté, manages to help Sanchez forget for a moment the neglect and misery that surrounds her.