“They Completely Locked Us Up, But We Were Spared Having to Stand in Lines”

The 12-story building, located at Tulipán and 39th Street, in Nuevo Vedado, has been under quarantine since last week. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 September 2020 — “I had never eaten better or so easily,” says Ivis with a big smile, despite being locked up for a week with hundreds of families in one of the largest buildings in Havana. The 12-story housing complex located at Calle Tulipán and 39th in Nuevo Vedado is cordoned off by yellow ribbon on all four sides and all access points are guarded by the Police.

“I have not had to stand on line, because they bring us everything down here,” says the woman, who lives with her husband, two daughters and her mother. “There are boxes with prepared food, they have been selling five chicken thighs and backs for three days and also one day they came with 10 sausages, a ham roll, two packages of croquettes and two bottles of oil, dry wine and vinegar. Every day they bring soft drinks, yogurt, compote, jam, meats, 10 rolls per family unit, but they also sell bread with ham or cheese.”

“Only the first three days were we able to go out in the morning to run errands, but since they set up the kiosks, they locked us up totally. The good thing is that we were spared the lines,” adds Ivis.

With three independent entrances, an outdoor park as a common area, a bank and a nearby Wi-Fi zone, residents in the building have feared for weeks that the coronavirus would reach their building.

“My husband has been out of work before; he is a driver and has been at home for a while, getting paid 60% of his salary, but nobody here can go to work, that I know. What I can’t tell you is whether other people are being paid their whole salary or only a part,” she explains.

Although this is not the tallest building in the area, where 18, 20 and 26 stories are commonplace, this prefabricated building, built in the 1980’s and inspired by Eastern European architecture, houses some 500 apartments. When it was being built, three 12-storey buildings were joined, one next to the other, ending up with what the neighbors jokingly call “the serpent,” “the horizontal ghetto,” or “the worm.”

With three separate entrances, an outdoor park as a common area, a bank and a nearby Wi-Fi zone, building residents have feared for weeks that the coronavirus would reach its densely populated structure. But the confinement also has its positive side, with a special supply of food in an area with a sketchy network of shops and markets.

Residents say that everything is “very organized” and that shopping is conducted by floor. “They come, they give you a ticket and when it’s your turn, you go down.”

“They come, they give you a ticket and when it’s time for your apartment, you go downstairs. There are people who don’t want to buy everything. For example, my neighbor, who lives alone with her husband, receives the same quotas as us, and there are five of us. They are retired, they do not have enough money to buy everything they are allowed to get, so sometimes they give us their ticket; in exchange we give them a part of what we buy.”

Ivis explains that one day they found four packages of detergent and five soaps for sale. “I hadn’t bought detergent for months and that’s how I solved my problem. What they haven’t brought is shampoo and toothpaste,” she said.

Another neighbor says that the closing caught her visiting her mother’s house, who lives in Alamar. “Imagine arriving and finding your building closed. Luckily, the confinement was not total those first days, so I was able to return to my house with my daughter,” she said.

“The other day I went to buy chicken at the Tulipán store and it turned out that it was closed because the employees had been given the task of preparing packages to sell to residents of the twelve floors,” said a neighbor from a nearby building.

This Monday, in El Vedado, another building woke up in the same situation. It is the América Building, on the corner of N and 27th, a seven-story building with high population density since many apartments have been divided into two.

“Here, they explained that between Tuesday and Wednesday they would set up the kiosk in the lobby to shop without having to go out and that they would randomly test us for the coronavirus, though not all the residents,” a tenant of the building told this newspaper.

Since the pandemic began in Cuba, no mandatory quarantine has been declared at the national level, but entire neighborhoods, shops, workplaces, houses and multi-family buildings have been isolated to avoid contagion. Havana has had more than 2,800 positive cases and an incidence rate of 131.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The rest of the streets on the Island, however, are still full of people in search of food and lining up for hours, a situation that the Government has not been able to resolve amid great shortages of basic products. What it has done is increase control over the population through fines and restrictions.

Translator: Norma Whiting


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