14ymedio, Havana, June 27, 2021 — Residents of the “rubber company building” decided to take further action to draw attention to the deterioration of their building. One resident recorded a video this week that shows water running down walls and her neighbors criticizing inaction from officials. After dozens of complaints to authorities, the official response to their plight has been, “There is no cement in this country.”
The two-story building, which has five apartments on each floor, was built in 1997 to house employees of the Conrado Piña Rubber Company. Located in the Lotería neighborhood of Havana’s Cotorro district, the building has had almost no maintenance for more than two decades.
After years of filing appeals and complaints with numerous state agencies, this week the building’s residents turned to 14ymedio. To illustrate the problem, Marlene Hernández — one of the building’s residents — also created a videotape showing a very badly damaged roof, rainwater seeping into apartments, mold and flooded floors.
In the video Hernández, who has a law degree from the University of Havana, interviews several of her neighbors, who describe the daily challenges they face as a result of the building’s poor condition. These challenges are especially difficult in the summer months, when rainstorms are more frequent. Ketty, one of the building’s residents, puts it bluntly: “I haven’t been able to sleep because my throat is sore from all the humidity and mold. It’s terrible.”
The woman, who lives with her 10-year-old daughter, describes the situation in her apartment: “There are a lot of leaks. In the bathroom the water comes in through the light fixtures.” She says she has complained “to everyone” and has gone through “all official channels.” The response she has consistently received is that there is no cement. “My daughter cries a lot because she’s worried the roof will fall in.”
Another apartment in precarious condition belongs to 74-year-old Sergio Pedroso. “I live surrounded by water. I’ve lost everything. I live like a dog.” He explains that he does not have the freely convertible currency required to buy cement at the stores that carry it. “I don’t even have enough to buy food,” he says.
Currently, the only options for buying cement are on the underground market, where it goes for more than 1,000 pesos a bag, and at hard currency stores, where it costs $100 and is in short supply. It has not been seen at peso stores since 2018 and is rationed at state-run markets, where only flood victims may buy it.
The cement shortage has not been an issue for the Cuban government, however, which continues building multiple luxury hotels on the island. It is also erecting an enormous concrete flag in front of the American embassy in Havana, on the so-called Anti-Imperialist Platform.
In the seven-minute video, Marlene Hernández describes life in her own apartment, with a floor full of water, plastic sheets covering the furniture and a sofa where three people sleep to escape the constant dripping. The water-stained walls behind her serves as a backdrop.”We’ve been writing for five years, to housing authorities, to the National Assembly, to the Council of State and even to the Communist Party.”
“The replies have been laughable,” she says before launching into a desperate plea for help. “If the authorities are watching this video, let’s hope they find a solution instead of just coming up with excuses.”
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