The Stinking Havana that Silences Eusebio Leal* / Lilianne Ruiz

HAVANA, Cuba, October 11, 2013, The residents on Maloja Street at the corner of St. Nicholas in the Los Sitios neighborhood (Central Havana ), face the serious problem of the accumulation of garbage in front the doors of their houses.

“We have written to the government and to our delegate to the People’s Power. What they tell us is that they know that this is a mini-garbage-dump, but they have nowhere to put it,” said one of the residents of the place who declined to give his name, fearing reprisals.

The garbage truck takes up to 20 days to collect the trash. The residents of the surrounding streets throw their trash in the containers and on the ground. “This here is a phenomenon. I open the door of my house and I have to jump over the trash to get by. My house is full of worms and cockroaches,” says one of the outraged residents.

When the garbage piles up in front of the containers, the garbage truck passes it by. The workers explain that they have to wait for the brigade that collects the garbage from the ground with shovels. But the production of garbage continues.

The sidewalk and the wall of the house immediately facing the dump were broken when they picked up the trash with a backhoe, when the mound of garbage had grown huge. The owner of the house says, “I accused them. It took them more than a month to tell me they were going to fix the sidewalk and the wall. But they didn’t come and they told me, “You build the formwork and we’ll pour the concrete.” I got two or three men on the block to build the formwork and they still didn’t come. It all got broken up and I lost the money I’d given to people to help me.”

Besides breeding worms, the smell of putrefaction is unbearable. When the situation becomes most critical, the residents leave their house and go elsewhere so they can breath.

The fumigations fail to scare off the mosquitoes, flies, worms, cockroaches and rats swarming down the block.

There is a bodega in the area that the sells sugar, rice and beans that the State assigns to each inhabitant, upon presentation of the ration book, euphemistically called “the supply.”

The animals and insects infest the bodega. The shopkeeper tries to exterminate them, but the plague becomes uncontrollable. “In the bodega are the goods for all the people. Everything gets in there. Ask the shopkeeper,” says one of the neighbors .

At the counter, the shopkeeper smiles resignedly. But he won’t give an interview. All his energy goes into killing the bugs.

Over several days, the only ones who poke through the hill of waste are people looking for things in the trash. In Cuba we call them “divers.” Some old garments taken. Others through a piece of bread or some spoiled foot in a sack. People explain that they are collecting a “stew” to feed the pigs being raised in backyards and on rooftops.

But they don’t look like pig farmers, or people trying to make a living, but rather like people who have fallen into the depths of poverty.

Others come to collect empty cans, which they then take to the “raw material” office. The state pays 8 pesos in national currency for 1 kilogram of aluminum cans (75 cans). And the bottlers pay 1 Cuban peso (about 4¢ US) for a clean glass bottle or 50 centavos for a dirty one.

The hill of garbage in the corner of Maloja and St. Nicholas, growing, leaves the residents to get used to breathing infected air and the sight of the filth as a recurring image.

Lilianne Ruiz

Translator’s Note: Eusebio Leal is the Havana Historian.

From Cubanet

14 October 2013