Question of Ownership / Yoani Sánchez

A woman, the owner of a recently opened snack bar, responds to the inquisitive questions of a reporter about her use of the public space. In the evening, her statements along with many others will be broadcast in an extensive television report about the invasion of common areas by the new private businesses. A very controversial topic. On one side are those spending their own money to build a counter, or to enlarge it to serve more customers, and along comes a demolition order for having extended into areas that don’t belong to them. On the other side, we encounter many passageways which, like certain entryways and walkways, are giving up space to the advance of construction extending from inside the houses. But it is notable that the penalization of this urban encroachment is not applied to everyone with the same severity. The state seems to have a free right-of-way — literally — to invade spaces, pushing pedestrians out into the streets, or constructing the greatest atrocities without any accountability to the people who live there.

In the neighborhood where I live, for example, a hotel covering an entire block rose at an incredible pace. Initially it was planned as a shelter for the patients of what is called Operation Miracle, but for about a year, responding to the laws of supply and demand, it has opened its doors to the public. This institution — without the consent of a single neighbor — stole a part of the sidewalk of Hidalgo Street. Where before there was room for us to walk by free from the danger of cars, the enormous building now has its truck loading area, an ugly ramp where there are never any vehicles unloading goods.

The damage appears to be irreversible in this case, because unlike the improvised constructions of individuals, here we’re talking about a mass of concrete which no one could cut a piece out of. People on foot, many of whom come out of the market and who used to walk along a sidewalk protected by curbs, feel like it’s not even worth it to complain. “It belongs to the State and you already know…” they tell me when I try to call for volunteers to protest. And the saddest thing is, they’re right. Not even the incisive reporter who criticizes the expansion of certain private businesses on prime time news, will prepare a story about this piece of the city they have taken from us.

12 October 2011