HAVANA, Cuba. – Suffocating heat and Saharan dust cover the skies, as if to make a desert out of this island, which is what it has looked like for years. There is a lack of food, buildings waste away and turn to ruins and ashes, as do their dwellers, and water becomes a miracle for those who don’t have it and can only see it from near or far, as in the infinity pools at luxury hotels with no tourists, or in cold water bottles that are free at the tables where Communist Party leaders meet.
Water is a privileged commodity in Cuba, and it’s not for everyone. Even with it being the capital, it’s not any different in Havana than in the rest of the country. The dry fountains that abound speak to us about that: the fountain at 23 Street and Malecón, disgustingly dirty in spite of the sign above it that reads “Cuba”, or maybe because of it; the fountain at Maceo Park; the fountain called “La India”, across from the Capitol building, luckily spared from the Saratoga Hotel explosion; the fountain at Cuatro Caminos which should be a haven for those who spend the night in its surroundings, especially at “La Chispa” Park with all the drunks that gather there (or beggars pretending to be drunk).
Today around the immediacy of the fountain at Cuatro Caminos, there is a crowded “candonga”, a makeshift market, where, in the absence of water, people sell whatever items they have found in the trash. That’s an image that could very well represent the state of the present economic situation that has resulted from the absurd policies of the Communist Party.
Like Cuatro Caminos, almost all other fountains are dry and surrounded by misery. For years, they haven’t functioned as fountains to beautify their environment or to quench a walking man’s thirst, either because there’s a pipe that’s been broken since the 1990s, or because Public Health ordered it shut to prevent mosquito reproduction, or because, as we’ve been told, some enthusiast said they were wasteful, or blamed them for neglect or made them responsible for other ills.
Truth be told, at some time someone ordered that they be dried up, especially where they are most accessible and needed. In poorer neighborhoods, where due to energy shortages, well-ventilated living quarters, lack of money or transportation to go to the beaches, they could become public bathtubs and thus reveal, by way of an ugly spectacle, just how much more grotesque our poverty becomes every day, a poverty that we cannot conceal.
Someone in power has decided that it’s better the fountains are empty, dried-up –after justifying evil and the inability to deal with savings and the blockade- instead of full of poor people bathing themselves or carting pales of water when the drinking-water tanks don’t meet their delivery schedule.
Maybe –if we choose to be distrustful- some clever official thought about drying up the fountains to force thirsty tourists to buy water in hard currency. If in the Historic District – the only place where working fountains still can be found- they have been blocked off with bars so as to impede access to people passing by, who is to say that all those obstacles placed on drinking a little water aren’t cruel strategies to make an additional buck (while losing thousands of dollars with every tourist that will not return to the city due to the thirst suffered, among other ills).
The price of a small bottle of water anywhere in the city is never less than 80 pesos. That might not be a high cost for tourists but it definitely is for Cubans who barely make 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 pesos per month. There are places in Old Havana where a bottle of water costs as much as a soda or a beer, and that’s because there are many places in Havana where there hasn’t been running water in homes for many years.
Havana is dying of thirst. We can affirm this bluntly when our mouth feels dry and we discover that the free glass of cold tap water we could request at any corner cafeteria some time ago is no longer available. In most instances, we can’t get that glass of water not because there is no tap water, but because, in these hard times and after so many years of anger and disenchantments, of conforming with our lot and not necessarily out of fear, acts of kindness are rare and far between amongst us. To a certain extent, our thirst is our own punishment.
ARTÍCULO DE OPINIÓN
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