The El Cerro neighborhood is mud and tears right now. One of Havana’s most populous municipalities is trying to recover from the surprise rains [on April 29] that left three dead in the city, more than 1,400 houses affected and 27 partial or total building collapses. Many families lost their most precious belongings and the whole city has that smell that is left after floods; a mixture of sewage, garbage and pain.
The main scene of the tragedy experienced in the Havana capital is indoors, in the homes where they couldn’t save even a chair, but the official press tries to minimize it because it happened a few hours before the ‘triumphant’ First of May, which is meant to show the world ‘the Cuban people’s attachment to the socialist system’.
The drama of those still cleaning out the mud by their own efforts, shoveling it from their living rooms and bedrooms, doesn’t fit with today’s ‘workers’ glory’, foreign guests, and even Nicolás Maduro’s trip to share the platform in the Plaza de la Revolución with those who live in houses well-protected from inclement weather. Meanwhile, a few yards from the place where they waved flags and chanted slogans this morning, those affected by Wednesday’s storm tried to recapture the rhythm of their lives. The high water mark, which reached nearly six feet in some areas, is still fresh on the facades and in memories.
There are countries where it costs a president his job if he doesn’t personally go to the scene of an accident or a natural disaster. The absence of government officials in an area affected by a storm, a volcano or an earthquake earns the enmity of the citizens in many places, and the condemnation of the international community. In Cuba, however, fanfare has been imposed as a strategy to divert attention from the problems. This May Day has been an example of how official propaganda privileges triumphalism and minimizes misery.
A lady was sitting on the corner of Amenidad and Infanta Streets this morning, looking at the sky. Her hands were wet from bailing out the water from the downstairs apartment where she lives. “I’m just waiting for the parade to end,” she said in a loud voice to anyone who would listen, with that wave of courage that overcomes us when we no longer have anything to lose. “When that’s over, maybe they will remember us,” she reaffirmed with a certain illusion.
They didn’t organize any parties in this miserable place. Out of shame, they should have suspended a parade that has cost thousands of pesos needed to help the victims. A little political sanity would have been required… but, who can ask those who have lived as well-to-do bourgeoisie for 56 years to think like the proletariat?
Yoani Sánchez is a Cuban journalist and activist. She lives and publishes in Havana, but because of government restrictions on the media her blog cannot be viewed there. Read more by Yoani.