Waiting to be Evicted by Force / Iván García

Right now, Teófilio Roberto López, age 66, is out of his mind. He ambles like a lunatic doing the paso doble along the edges of his farm, located a stone’s throw from the National Highway.

Lopez is on the razor’s edge. All of his possessions, erected with sacrifice and with the help of his eight brothers who live in the United States, are lost. Sitting on the large porch of his two-story home, rocking frenetically in an ivory-colored rocking chair, with a frown and a threatening gesture, he vented his ire.

“When the authorities enter my property to evict me, I’ll make a ruckus. All this” — and with his thick index finger, he signaled everything around him — “I built in 30 years, so that my family and I could live comfortably,” said the elderly Teófilo, a gentleman of medium stature, who speaks at the speed of light and with nervous movements of his hands.

The case of Teófilo goes back to July of 2009, when the minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Olidna Pedraza Rodriguez, ordered the Directorate of Housing of the municipality of Arroyo Narranjo, in Havana, to confiscate the belongings of the family of Teófilo, outlined in Decree 149 — the law against new riches — that permits the dispossession of properties of a person for “improper enrichment.”

Here began the ordeal of the Lopez family. If there’s one thing Teófilo has known all his life, it is work. Born in 1944 on a remote plantation in the province of Sancti Spiritus, 400 kilometers from Havana, he has labored hard to come out ahead.

In 1996, together with his son Antonio Lopez, age 40, and his wife, Elsa Avila, age 60, the Lopez Avilas began a small personal business. They established a small but successful roadside cafe.

Highly particular, the elderly Teófilo saved the receipts from the repairs to his home and those from the money sent to him by his brothers from Florida.

He saved all the documents regarding his properties in a file. “When I obtained this house as owner, it was a miserable shack. Thanks to our efforts, we constructed a spacious home and began to work the land,” recalls Teófilo.

The family farm was 0.6 hectares, and from a bird’s-eye view it was obviously well cared for, and one could see groves of mango, avocado, guayaba, orange, plantain, and dwarf coconut plants.

To this, Teófilo added pig breeding, and had obtained six cows that produced hundreds of liters of milk. In the best months of the farm and the cafe, the income exceeded 30,000 pesos (1,400 dollars). Along with the remittances sent to him from the north, he was able to build a residence that, by Cuban standards, was “luxurious.”

He even built a small swimming pool, to spend time with his family and his brothers, who visited the island up to three times a year. Teófilo knew he broke the law when his son Antonio began to rent the house without a license.

“We paid an outlandish fine, and they seized our house from my son. I believe this was my family’s only error. From that moment on, the authorities were out for me. They weren’t able to catch me in any more illegal activity. I have papers that attest to that,” noted Teófilo while he sipped from a cup of coffee.

The Lopez family has tried everything through legal channels. But they have not been able to stop the bureaucratic machine, which set the month of August as the date to kick them out on the street. In exchange, they offered the family a minimal house, cracked and damp, with only one bedroom.

In the deepest part of his soul, Teófilo considers that the state is acting against him arbitrarily. And he has considered the worst. From setting fire to his property, to setting up with a rifle in the middle of his plantation, refusing to abandon it.

After consulting with a group of attorneys from a firm on the margins of state control, he made up his mind. Laritza Diversent, one of the attorneys who helped him, believes that if, in Cuba, its own laws are respected, Teófilo would come out on top in this case, and the state would have to return what had been seized up until that point. And those were not little things: two cars, a motorcycle, and countless electronic appliances valued at two million pesos, according to official appraisers.

Meanwhile, while justice decides, with each dawn the Lopez family waits for the authorities, supported by the police, to evict them, by force, from their farm.

Whatever happens, Teófilo thinks that his biggest crime was to try to have a prosperous life. “This is not looked well upon, in Cuba,” he said, hanging his head. His eyes tear up. “I’m too old to try to start a new life.”

Iván García

More about this story in “Minister puts a citizen in defenseless position.”

Translated by: Gregorio

August 15, 2010