14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 16 April 2023 – ’Up La Rampa and down La Rampa!’ was the slogan used by all the people who flocked to Calle 23 in El Vedado, Havana at the weekends in order to get to or from the Malecón sea wall, or a cinema or the queue for the Coppelia ice cream parlour. All that activity has now gone, leaving behind a deserted avenue, which, this Saturday at 5.30pm was seen to be empty of cars and pedestrians.
The fuel crisis has significantly transformed the view of what once was the left-hand atrium of Havana’s heart. There are closed cafeterias, restaurants only operating at half throttle and pavements/sidewalks lacking the usual activity of the capital’s residents, provincial visitors who used to come and check out the liveliest area of the city, or tourists keen to check out its bars and cabarets.
“We’re selling very little because there’s hardly anyone on the street”, Yusier laments — a waiter in a nearby private cafeteria which has had to resort to serving only on the terrace in order to keep both salons open. “People aren’t coming here from other areas now because afterwards they don’t have any way of getting back home, with the state that the bus service is in”.
In order to mitigate the fall in demand, the private business has set up a service which delivers pizzas, other foods and cold drinks to customers’ homes. “But it’s not the same as going out for a stroll and then having a meal, it’s a different experience. It’s people that give life to places and right now El Vedado is dead”, concludes Yusier.
The various taxi collectives that use Calle 23 as part of their routes are similarly reduced in service. On Saturday afternoon, three women were waiting on the main corner of El Vedado and Calle G, arms waving to try and flag down an almendron* cab. “I’ve been here an hour and there’s nothing. If I don’t get a cab soon I’m just going to walk it”, one of them told 14ymedio.
The centre of Calle G is an area of gardens and park benches which up until a few years ago was full of children and adolescents at the weekends. “We’ve moved on from complaining about them to missing them”, admits Maria del Carmen, resident of a three storey building on Avenida de los Presidentes, near to Calle 23. “Before, they wouldn’t let us sleep, and now what keeps us awake is the fact that they aren’t there! Where are they all?”
Maria del Carmen remembers the busy days when the pedestrian walkway down the middle of Calle G was packed from Friday onwards with all of Havana’s different urban tribes. There were rockeros, frikis, emos, góticos, aprendices de vampiros, raperos, mikis, repas** and whatever other groups there might happen to be in the most important city in the country. There were frequent complaints from residents and the police raided the area constantly and imposed fines.
Today, only the memory remains of that carnival of extravagant costumes, guitars, make-up and laughter. Niorvis, 32, worked as a caretaker for a nearby state restaurant which has been under repair for more than five years. “I spent my adolescence between Calle G and La Rampa, so that when I pass by there now it looks like a funeral parlour. All the passion is gone”.
If the fuel of passion is important for filling city squares, bringing people with a common interest together and keeping a group of friends singing until the early hours, it is no less certain that it is hydrocarbons which allow people from all parts of the city to meet up in one place. “The meeting up in Calle G has been snuffed out by police harassment, the number of people leaving the country, and transport problems”, Niorvis surmised.
Whilst he is evoking the past, a solitary bus passes in front of the man’s gaze, somewhat overladen and tilting with an excess of passengers. Dozens of people who are waiting at the Quixote Park bus stop get ready to try and board the vehicle. The bus can barely take on half a dozen before awkwardly heading out into the broad avenue, where only the clattering noise of the dilapidated vehicle can be heard.
When the bus has departed, temperatures rise at the bus stop. “I’m not leaving my house ever again”, says a woman carrying her child in her arms. “You can’t even relax when you do go out because every journey becomes a pain, like this one”, adds someone else. “But, guys, this is all gonna get fixed soon and there’s gonna be so much fuel you’ll even be able to gargle with it”, jokes another.
It’s getting late and the buildings begin to take on a reddish hue. In the whole of avenida 23 the only things that are moving with any dynamism are the forklift trucks and the labourers working on the construction which will be the tallest building in Cuba: the López-Calleja tower, so-named by people in allusion to the magnate of the military consortium Gaesa, who died last year.
A few shop signs begin to light up and La Rampa by night becomes a zone of shadows and silence.
*’Almendron’ is the word used to refer to the classic American cars, generally in use as taxis, and in particular as shared, fixed-route taxis. The word comes from “almond” in reference to the shape of these ’ancient’ vehicles.
**This link (if your browser is able to convert it to English) describes in detail the various ’tribes’ and the sources and meanings of their names.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso
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