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Photo: Teresa Diaz Canals

What Did You Do for the Revolution to Deserve a House?

23 / marzo / 2023

“I tell you – this is a public crime, since remediating unnecessary misery is a duty of the State!” 

Jose Marti, Letter to the Editor of “La Nacion,” September 1, 1883

We all know that a nest is a bird’s house, a hideout for the winged species. Years before, when a nest of this kind was found, someone would insist: “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it!

A house is a refuge, a secure place, a sort of half-wall and half-door, the foundation for a slow and continuous development. Humans like to go into their own corners. We are the space where we spend our time. Being able to resolve our apparently small problems forms the basis for being able to resolve the large ones, since nothing is insignificant to the psyche. In Cuba, that symbolic vision of a human nest dissolved with the bureaucratic revolution.

I got a call from Maria, the woman whose difficult situation in her ruined dwelling I profiled in the article “Poverty and old age; the reality that shakes us,” that was published in La Joven Cuba about a year ago. I thought she was calling to talk to me about another personal problem. But no – she wanted me to visit a neighbor, and also document her reality. She wanted me to contact Limay Blanco, the humorist who has resolved some cases for very needy people through the solidarity of many others. The latter request was out of my range of possibilities, since I’m not an activist nor do I know the man. I’m merely someone with certain concerns about the context in which we live.

The situation Maria spoke of involved a single mother who has four children and lives on Calle 26 [26 Street] between 13th and 15th Streets in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado. The house where she lives isn’t that reduced: it has a lower floor and a second floor where the rooms are located. There’s only one bothersome detail – tenants can only occupy the ground floor, since the upper level is in danger of collapsing and, as such, is uninhabitable. The woman’s name is Caridad Rodriguez Bueno; her mother owns the house but doesn’t live with them.

The bathroom where that single-parent family lives is closed off. A tree on one side of the property fell down and penetrated that part of the house. It also has no water. Because of that, they’re all forced to bathe in the kitchen, where the only working faucet for the precious liquid is found.

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When I visited Caridad, she explained that her children all have difficulties. The oldest, who’s 12, has a cognitive disability. The other three – 9, 6, and 5 years old – have visual disabilities. Because of that, the two oldest attend a special school. The only support the family receives are the child support payments from the father of the two youngest. Given these conditions, Caridad went to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. They helped her to get a job, but it didn’t last long, since she arrived late many times. The job they gave her at the pharmacy started at the same time that the school bus was scheduled to take her two oldest children to their special school, and it was sometimes late.

The institution supposedly charged with resolving the problems of these very vulnerable people, generally tagged as “social cases,” assigned them two bunk beds and a digital box for the television they never actually received. With total candor, Caridad showed me the small room where her children sleep, which was overflowing with clothing drying on clotheslines. I imagine that their former bedroom is now the living room, only occupied by a kind of bed. In the entrance to the children’s room, I observed the only fan in the house: a Soviet—brand Orbita, which is impressive in itself. It had been repaired by the oldest child, and was now fulfilling the role of clothes dryer.

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Caridad gave me letters asking a number of government agencies, among them the Council of State, for assistance with the serious situation of their residence. At the Council, the employee who attended asked her a surprising question: “What did you do for the Revolution, for us to give you a house?”

I pause here. Saint Augustin has a phrase I like a lot: “I want you to be.” Every being is chosen for what they are, before being recognized for what they do. Every being is chosen as they are, before anyone chooses them and even if no one chooses them. However, in Cuba, not only the houses, but also televisions, washing machines, fans were distributed in the workplaces many years ago according to revolutionary merits.

That unjust and disrespectful question and rhetorical response was the same one they gave me over forty years ago, when I was as young as Caridad and asked permission to acquire a small apartment that was vacant at the time, in order to live at peace with my only son. At that time, I was a university professor. I gave my message to a guard at the offices of the Council of State. A month passed, and I received a citation to appear at the provincial Party office. I had previously written to Vilma Espin,- lifetime president of the organization until her death in 2007, and now eternally presiding over the seat of the Federation of Cuban Women – and I hadn’t receive any answer. For that reason, I went to the interview with a degree of hope.

“You must realize,” the man who received me said to me bluntly, “that we have many internationalist veterans also asking.” That was the crushing null explanation that functionary offered me. The suggested proceeding was, and still is, a true mockery.

I had a painful understanding of the strong comparison. In this country, in order to aspire to acquire a space to live in, you must have revolutionary merits. Ours is a sad reality. To have a decent life is considered a right acquired through some combat – literally, as a group of guerillas did over sixty years ago. With the difference that they took over magnificent mansions they didn’t construct. Caridad’s children don’t have that possibility. My son, in order to have a house, had to emigrate and suffer the resulting tearing up of his roots and the painful rupture of family life.

In the democratic countries, intelligence, the gift of observation, invention, force of will, can bring success, understood as a better quality life. In our case, opportunism and the will to forge a political career is what functions. I don’t want to speak in absolutes, it wouldn’t be fair, but those of us who live on this island know very well about these promotions and perks.

Words are often disloyal to things. The topic of a residence constitutes an unkept promise to the people. Everything had to change so that nothing would change. In order to alleviate the housing problem on the island, that for the moment has no solution, it would be necessary to activate a level of pity and social interest that, up until now, can’t be encountered in the government.

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.


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