Santiago Hides Its Indigents / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Raw material collectors have been warned “not to appear” until the festivities have concluded (Yosmani Mayeta)
Raw material collectors have been warned “not to appear” until the festivities have concluded (Yosmani Mayeta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago, 23 July 2015 – The builders hurry to give the last touches to building projects, and the communal brigades obsessively clean the streets. A few days before the celebration of its fifth centennial, the city of Santiago is bustling. The imminent arrival of the delegations to the ceremony for the Assault on the Moncada Barracks has also caused the local authorities to gather up the many vagrants of the historic center.

The psychiatric institutions of the city have established monitoring services for the areas surrounding Cespedes Park in order to proceed with the detention of the mentally ill and homeless or those who beg near the tourist destinations. “Everything must be clean,” explains one of the members of a medical brigade that handles such tasks.

For those who reside in the city of Santiago it is evident that something is missing from the landscape of the so-called “golden kilometer” where the first houses, established in 1515, and the Holy Basilica are located. Absent are those figures, often scrawny and in dirty clothes, who stretch out their hands or display a prescription so that the passersby will give them “some help to live.”

The cathedral entrance is one of the busiest places for those displaced people who, with a figure of Saint Lazarus, a candle and a little plate, spend the days waiting for parishioners to throw them some coins. Now they are not even seen, due to having been confined in hospital wards until the more than 4,000 guests of the festivities leave.

Regina Lobaina, a nurse at the Gustavo Machin Psychiatric Hospital, confirms to 14ymedio the hospitalization of the vagabonds and explains that although “many have family and receive aid from provincial social assistance, poor living conditions force them to beg on the more affluent streets.”

However, not only the destitute have been removed from the “family portrait” that is being prepared for the city’s anniversary. Those who gather raw materials in the vicinity of downtown have been warned “not to appear” until the week concludes. Bernardo, retired from the Ministry of the Interior, is one of them. He picks up cans in parks, bars and public places because his pension is not enough, but recently they have “knocked down his business,” he explains.

The facilities of the Train Terminal have also been “cleaned” of indigents. Lourdes often takes shelter there, but recently has searched for another roof under which to spend the night “until all this is over.” Her house was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, and she says she has slept in all kinds of places, including the provincial Party headquarters. “My children are in the Shelter for Homeless Children because I cannot have them with me,” she adds.

Lourdes says she “has been lucky” because at least she has not been confined. “I prefer the street even though it is hard because a hospital room is worse,” she asserts while she gathers her belongings in a bag that years ago lost its handles and zipper. Bernardo, Lourdes and the other indigents are superfluous to the showcase of the fifth centennial of Santiago de Cuba which is preparing to be shown off to journalists and authorities.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel