Intense Rains Give Evidence of the "Wonder" of Havana / Iván García

Beneath the rain, Havana received the title of Wonder City of the Modern World. Photo by Elio Delgado Valdés, taken from Havana Times.
Beneath the rain, Havana received the title of Wonder City of the Modern World. Photo by Elio Delgado Valdés, taken from Havana Times.

Iván García, 9 June 2016 — Ask Luis Carlos Rodríguez, retired, his opinion about the designation of “Wonder City” based on an Internet survey conducted in the winter of 2014 by the Swiss foundation, “New 7 Wonders,” and you will hear a long list of complaints, sprinkled with insults, about the olive-green government that has governed the destiny of Cuba since January 1959.

The old man lives in a quarter where the wastewater runs through the cracked central corridor, a little more than half a kilometer from the area of colonial Havana, which wears makeup for the photos of dazzled tourists.

The rainy season has become a calvary for the residents of Havana who live in the low zones, where the housing is in poor shape, or in any of the 80 unhealthy neighborhoods that proliferate in the capital.

In a hot, windowless room with a half-dozen plastic buckets and junk, Luis Carlos tries to trap the drops of water that filter through the corrugated roof.

“On days of pouring rain, I pray to the Lord that the room doesn’t fall down on me. I’ve already sealed the roof twice, but it continues to leak,” he says, and with the help of a nephew, he tries to patch a hole.

When the rain pours down in Havana, the people who live in dilapidated housing or on streets that are close to the coast, become sailors, bailing out water inside their homes or escaping to safe places in precarious boats.

On Tuesday, June 7, at 7:30 in the evening, while Richard Weber, the President of the New7Wonders Foundation was unveiling the Wonder City plaque on the Esplanada de La Punta, a stone’s throw from the Malecón, Reinaldo Savón’s family was loading its furniture and electrical appliances into a horse-drawn cart, with water skirting the  middle of San Ramón, a neighborhood that suffers like no other from the rainy periods, for lack of an adequate infrastructure of drainage.

“I don’t know which wonder city those bastards awarded. I invite them to come live in San Ramón on days like these. After they see how peoples’ houses are flooded and how they lose their things, they will change their opinion. No one thinks about this part of Havana. It’s been more than 20 years since the Government promised us a solution, but everything stays the same, only promises,” Reinaldo says.

The Office of the City Historian, directed by Eusebio Leal, a regime official, who managed to save various valuable buildings in Old Havana from disaster, prepared a free cultural program. From June 7-11, you could enjoy, among other things, performances of the Teatro Lírico, the Ballet Folklórico, the Tropicana Cabaret, the Ballet Lizt Alfonso, a parade of singers, musicians and dancers on the Paseo del Prado, and a concert by the Orquesta Aragón on the corner of Prado and Neptuno.

But Havanans like Lourdes Pérez, a resident of a marginal neighborhood adjacent to the José Antonio Echevarría Technological University, in the Marianao municipality, isn’t much for parties.

Four years ago, Lourdes came to the capital from Santiago de Cuba with her three children and her husband in search of better luck. He sells corn tamales and clothing from Ecuador, and she takes care of elderly sick people.

Legally, Lourdes and her family are clandestine in Havana. They don’t have a ration book, and their hut, with a dirt floor and an aluminum roof, doesn’t have a bathroom or drinking water. They live poorly, eat little and drink cheap alcohol.

“We don’t have anything more. When we get a few pesos, they go for food and rum. The money isn’t enough to build a decent house. We barely survive with what we earn,” says Lourdes’ husband, who spends time gathering raw materials in the dump on Calle 100, west of the city.

Since December 17, 2014, after the truce with the United States, the old Cold-War enemy, Cuba, and especially Havana, has received a stream of famous visitors, investment projects, a runway of Chanel fashions, Hollywood filmings and even a mega-concert by the Rolling Stones.

Press passes are everywhere, but the benefits are invisible to the average citizen. The shortages sting like a whip; the infrastructure of the city is Fourth World; garbage is piling up in the neighborhoods; thousands of buildings threaten to collapse; public transport is chaotic, and finding something to eat continues to be the main preoccupation, not only for people in Havana but for all Cubans.

Orestes Ruiz, an engineer, can’t believe that Havana is a wonder city. “Too many shortages. Anyone who has traveled abroad will see that even the cities of Third World nations, to which they should compare us, have more hygiene, better Internet connection and more efficient public services.”

Nadine López, a university student, considers that it has to do with the excess of news in the international media, or it’s an operation of marketing or simply a joke in poor taste.

“You have to have a lot of imagination to reward Havana as a wonder city. I don’t know why there’s so much celebration. For those of us who live here it’s more of an offense than a recompense,” she says, while the rain dies down in a doorway on the Calzada Diez de Octubre.

Although the leaders promise a “prosperous and sustainable socialism,” and the media focus continues extolling Havana, a large segment of those who live in José Martí’s small fatherland wait for more palpable changes that will improve the quality of their lives.

For now, all that remains is soft music in the background. And press credentials.

Hispanopost, June 9, 2016

Translated by Regina Anavy