CubaBrief: Ten Homeless Mothers’ Resist Eviction. Govt hotel building spree while Cuban homes crumble. The legacy for which this Cuban dissident fought is still unfolding

Independent Cuban journalist Waldo Fernández Cuenca in his article “Ten ‘Squatting Mothers’ Resist Eviction, Demanding that the Government Resolve Their Housing Situation” published in Diario de Cuba on June 30, 2022  reports that “the phenomenon of ‘squatting mothers‘ is spreading across Cuba, aggravated by the serious housing shortage. In the capital, collapsed buildings are frequent calamities, especially in Old Havana and Central Havana due to their age and state of disrepair.”

Fear continues to operate in Cuba, and it is reflected in the statements made by one of the squatting mothers, who wished to remain anonymous, in the June 30, 2022 Diario de Cuba article mentioned above. “We don’t want them to see our problem as a political one, we just want to be heard and, if possible, to be given a piece of this immense, abandoned place so we have somewhere to live. That’s all we want, but no one from the government has come here to talk to us.”

Reinaldo Arenas in his posthumous autobiography Before Night Falls (1992) wrote: “The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream. And I came here to scream.”  This quote came to mind reading this story of ten homeless Cuban mothers (two of them pregnant) and their 11 children squatting in an abandoned printing facility in Havana, Cuba.

They are there because their homes are in danger of collapsing, or they are literally homeless. This is in contrast to shiny brand new, and empty buildings going up at record pace across the island.

Carrrie Kahn in her NPR May 24, 2022 article “Cuba hopes if it builds new hotels, tourists will come, after a long COVID shutdown” on the present economic crisis, and absence of tourists, how the “government continued its aggressive hotel building spree even through the pandemic. A stroll along the Malecón seaside promenade takes you past one recently opened luxury hotel, the Grand Aston la Habana. It is stunning, with two tall white towers and hundreds of rooms looking out onto the ocean. There’s just one problem. It’s practically empty.”

Turns out Arenas was wrong. Hotels in Cuba are empty while Cubans are homeless. In the capitalist United States during the pandemic and the similar crisis that generated [ more homelessness, not tourists], a number of states spent millions of dollars to house the homeless in hotels to set up emergency homeless shelters.

Meanwhile in Communist Cuba the hotels are empty, and homeless mothers and children are living in an abandoned printing facility.

Vanessa Garcia’s book review, “The legacy for which this Cuban dissident fought is still unfolding“, published in The Washington Post on July 1, 2022  dispels many of the illusions some still have of the Cuban dictatorship in reviewing David E. Hoffman’s  Give Me Liberty: The True Story of Oswaldo Payá and his Daring Quest for a Free Cuba, and exposing the murderous nature of the communist regime that silences dissent, and for sixty three years denied Cubans their sovereignty.

Diario de Cuba, June 30, 2022

Ten ‘Squatting Mothers’ Resist Eviction, Demanding that the Government Resolve Their Housing Situation

With their 11 children, they have holed up at an abandoned printing facility in Centro Habana. Two of the women are pregnant.

Waldo Fernández Cuenca

La Habana 30 Jun 2022

Mothers with their children on the premises where they are squatting. Diario de Cuba

Ten Cuban mothers —including two pregnant women—, with their 11 children, have moved into an abandoned printing facility on the Calle Virtudes 816, between Oquendo and Márquez González, in Central Havana. They have been there for a week, under threat of eviction by the Government and the Technical  Investigations Department (DTI).

“We are here because our houses are in danger of collapsing, or we don’t have any. As soon as we came, people from the DTI came to tell us to get out, without even listening to us. Since we’re not going to leave without them talking to us, and our problem being solved, the Police have stopped people from bringing us food, to get us to give up,” the leader of the group told DIARIO DE CUBA; identified by the other women using the Yoruba word “Iyawó,” she was dressed in white.

A video posted on Alain Paparazzi’s Facebook page shows one of the mothers filming from inside the premises the surveillance to which they were subjected hours after they decided to forcibly enter the abandoned four-storey building.

“We don’t want them to see our problem as a political one, we just want to be heard and, if possible, to be given a piece of this immense, abandoned place so we have somewhere to live. That’s all we want, but no one from the government has come here to talk to us,” said another of the mothers, who asked to remain anonymous.

The phenomenon of “squatting mothers” is spreading across Cuba, aggravated by the serious housing shortage. In the capital, collapsed buildings are frequent calamities, especially in Old Havana and Central Havana due to their age and state of disrepair.

Although the authorities always strive to evict mothers from the premises or houses where they are squatting, in many cases these women manage to stay in them.

https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1656608219_40605.html


The Washington Post, July 1, 2022

The legacy for which this Cuban dissident fought is still unfolding

Review by Vanessa Garcia

Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá greets supporters in 2003 in Havana. In “Give Me Liberty,” David E. Hoffman charts the life and suspicious death of a man who challenged the Castro regime. (Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images)

A year ago, Cubans took to the streets in massive protests, shouting, “Down with the dictatorship!” Some of the demonstrators and many of the protest’s leaders held out their thumb and forefinger in the shape of the letter L.

That L traced back to a man named Oswaldo Payá, a Cuban activist who defied Fidel Castro’s despotic regime and ultimately lost his life for the cause. The L was Payá’s familiar symbol of the fight for liberation.

In “Give Me Liberty: The True Story of Oswaldo Payá and his Daring Quest for a Free Cuba,” David E. Hoffman delivers a moving, deeply researched and long-overdue biography of the man who launched the Varela Project, a citizen initiative that challenged Fidel Castro’s rule by petitioning for democracy.

The initiative was prompted by what Payá called a “crack in the wall” of tyranny. In a pre-Castro constitution, written in 1940, Cubans were granted the right to propose laws by presenting a citizen initiative with at least 10,000 signatures. Under Castro, that constitution was torn up and a new one written. In the process of creating the new constitution, however, some portions “were simply cut and pasted from . . . the 1940 constitution,” Hoffman writes, including the citizen initiative. “Perhaps

Fidel did not notice it, or perhaps he concluded that no one would ever dare to use it.”

Hoffman details the ways in which Payá used the initiative to demand “free speech, a free press, freedom of association, freedom of belief, private enterprise, free elections, and freedom for political prisoners.”

The movement presented the petition to the National Assembly in 2002 with 11,020 verified signatures. More than 14,000 signatures were added the following year. Taken by surprise, Castro and his state security apparatus acted quickly. As Hoffman reveals, “Oswaldo and his movement paid a heavy price.”

Not only were the signatures not accepted, but 75 activists and independent journalists were arrested and sentenced to as many as 28 years in prison. This round-up became known as the Black Spring of 2003. “The arrests over three days,” Hoffman writes, “struck at the heart of Oswaldo’s movement.” Many of those locked up were active in the Varela Project, in one way or another.

Payá himself was not arrested. Instead, state security “subjected [him] to a different torment: relentless psychological warfare,” Hoffman recounts. Warned repeatedly that he would not outlive Castro, Payá told a visiting U.S. diplomat that “people aren’t taking seriously enough the threat that they’d liquidate me.”

Hoffman skillfully leads us through Payá’s narrative, as if “Give Me Liberty” were a historical thriller. The tragedy at the center, of course, is that it’s a true story, not only of one man’s “journey into the whirlwind of dictatorship” but also of a country and its suffocating struggle for freedom.

As a young man, Payá was forced into a labor camp that was meant to mold and “reeducate” him and other dissidents into “new men,” who would defend the revolution. It didn’t work. As Hoffman observes, “for Oswaldo Payá, the experience was the opposite. They had not conquered his soul. They had nourished it.”

The stronger his soul became, however, the more dangerous were the threats against his life. As far back as 2004, Payá recognized he was a marked man when he told Swedish democracy activist Henrik Ehrenberg: “I see very few chances of getting out alive.”

Eight years later he was dead, four years before Castro.

The last chapter, detailing the car crash that killed Payá on July 22, 2012, reads like a nightmare-inducing horror story. We ride along as Payá travels with his protege and family friend, Harold Cepero, to Santiago de Cuba, 545 miles from Havana on the other end of the island. In Santiago de Cuba, Payá hoped to organize and train young activists under a program he called Paths for Change.

In the car with Payá and Cepero were two foreigners, who were working with Payá. At the wheel was a young Spaniard named Ángel Carromero, a leader in the Madrid youth wing of the country’s ruling People’s Party. Also in the car was Jens Aron Modig, a youth organizer of Sweden’s Christian Democrats.

Along the way, their rented Hyundai was tailed by what Payá believed were state security men in a red Lada. After a stop for lunch, Payá sang to a Beatles CD they had bought on the trip and warned Carromero to drive carefully to avoid provoking the vehicle shadowing them. As they passed through a construction zone, the Lada suddenly lurched forward and hit the Hyundai from behind. Carromero lost control of the car, which slid off the road and hit a tree. The Hyundai’s roof caved in where Payá was sitting. Modig curled into a fetal position, and Carromero passed out, then regained consciousness as he was being pulled out of the car by two “brawny” Cuban men who shut him into a van. Someone then hit him in the head, and he fell unconscious again. Modig woke up in an ambulance.

“Unanswered questions linger,” Hoffman writes. “Where did the blue van and ambulance come from? What explains the ambulance and van showing up so quickly in the middle of nowhere? Were they already in position — because someone knew what was about to happen?”

Payá’s family would soon be told that Oswaldo was dead. But state officials revealed little about what had happened. At the request of Payá’s wife, Ofelia, two friends rushed to the hospital and were told by a police captain that two witnesses reported seeing the crash. Neither witness mentioned anything about a collision, only that the Hyundai went off the road. “They recalled a passing red Lada had halted to help the wounded,” Hoffman writes. “Then a blue van arrived and took one of the foreigners away. An ambulance arrived very soon thereafter.”

Vanessa Garcia is a screenwriter, novelist and playwright. Her children’s book, “What the Bread Says: Baking with Love, History, and Papan,” due out in October, explores baking and family history, particularly her grandfather’s escape from three tyrannies, including Castro’s Cuba.

Give Me Liberty

The True Story of Oswaldo Payá and his Daring Quest for a Free Cuba

By David E. Hoffman

Simon & Schuster. 519 pp. $32.50

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/07/01/legacy-which-this-cuban-dissident-fought-is-still-unfolding/

NPR, May 24, 2022

Latin America

Cuba hopes if it builds new hotels, tourists will come, after a long COVID shutdown

Updated May 24, 202211:44 AM ET

Carrie Kahn

The Grand Aston la Habana, overlooking the Malecón and the sea, is the latest luxury hotel to open as part of the Cuban government’s aggressive tourism building project. Carrie Kahn/NPR

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba is hoping more tourists return to the island, after a lengthy shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tourism is vital to the communist country’s economy, which has taken a beating from not only the pandemic, but also tough sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

The war in Ukraine has also had an impact, as Western governments gradually closed the airspace to Russia. That makes travel for Russians — one of Cuba’s top tourist groups — difficult and very expensive.

Last week, the Biden administration rolled back some restrictions on Cuba travel. But it’s unclear if U.S. visitors will return.

Michel Cleray is with a small group of fellow French tourists visiting the island. He says they’re enjoying the sights, especially the long line of classic cars along the grand Paseo del Prado boulevard in Old Havana.

For the local taxi drivers, though, it’s been a dismal day. Eduardo Cedeño, a 36-year-old driver, says he hasn’t had a single rider in his shiny red 1956 Buick convertible. “It is the low season for sure, but even the cooler winter months weren’t so great,” he says.

  • There is a trickle of tourists heading back to Havana, but nothing like the more than 4 million a year before the pandemic. Analysts say Cuba missed out on a recuperating Caribbean market by waiting until late November to reopen its border and drop strict coronavirus requirements.

  • Pilar Álvarez Azze, from the Tourism Ministry, tells NPR that officials are optimistic travelers will return to the island. She says the ministry is hoping to lure at least 2.5 million visitors this year. Fewer than half a million have come so far this year though. In addition to Russians, Canadians, U.S. citizens and Europeans are the leading visitors.

    For many ordinary citizens in this state-controlled economy, tourism is the main way to make money — whether by lodging foreign guests in their homes or staffing hotels and other businesses catering to international visitors.

    Experiencing one of its worst economic crises in decades, Cuba needs the cash. It can’t buy essential imports, including most food and fuel oil, without foreign currency. Inflation has skyrocketed and Cubans spend hours every day waiting in lines for food and gas.

  • Yet the government continued its aggressive hotel building spree even through the pandemic. A stroll along the Malecón seaside promenade takes you past one recently opened luxury hotel, the Grand Aston la Habana. It is stunning, with two tall white towers and hundreds of rooms looking out onto the ocean. There’s just one problem. It’s practically empty.

  • Álvarez defends the controversial construction as necessary for Cuba’s long-term well-being. “We keep on building the future, and the future is for our people,” she says.

    Not all of the Grand Aston’s neighbors would agree. “That’s where the princes live,” says 52-year-old Elias Despine Rodríguez, pointing at the hotel. “Here’s where the beggars reside,” he says, pointing to his crumbling apartment across the street. “We thought that when they built the hotel, they’d fix our building too, but they didn’t.” Growing inequality has spurred resentment and sparked rare protests that erupted last July.

  • Despine stands next to his 1947 classic Harley Davidson motorcycle with a for sale sign on it. He can’t even afford the gas for it. He says he can’t find work and has given up hope that even if tourists do come back, the economy would improve for him.

    So, like large numbers of Cubans today, he’s trying to get enough cash to leave.

  • https://www.npr.org/2022/05/22/1100587966/tourists-are-returning-to-cuba-but-is-it-enough-for-the-islands-economy