Mired in a Stream of Violence, Havana Shows Its “Virtues” to Tourists

La Habana, Policía, Cuba

MIAMI, United States – While the 41st Annual International Tourism Fair (FITCuba 20232) transpired recently, in the rest of the country, crimes and assaults against individuals kept taking place.

In the last couple of weeks, several murders have been registered in the country, one assault at knifepoint, and one violent robbery, most of them reported on social media and independent news outlets.

However, authorities didn’t seem to be concerned about this, for all they did was promote the “virtues” of foreign tourism.

As part of the fair’s activities, the event organizers highlighted all the options that Havana represents as a tourist destination. Luis Pino Naranjo, Ministry of Tourism delegate in Havana assured the public that the city is “welcoming thousands of visitors from many latitudes in the world, who come to the city to enjoy the magic and its captivating cultural and patrimonial wealth.”

“Havana, bathed by the ocean, the sun and the magic of its residents will be more beautiful and welcoming every day,” he emphasized.

According to a report by the official Agencia Cubana de Noticias (ACN, by its Spanish acronym), during the event attention was paid to the progress of the restoration of the Historic Centre of Old Havana.

Authorities indicated that “the Office of the City Historian has taken it upon itself to restore large portions of the oldest sectors of the city, leaving along the way sites that have been totally brought back to live.”

They confirm that these actions have been undertaken “to improve not only the architectural image of the capital city as part of its cultural development, but also that of its residents.”

During this past FITCuba 2023, the official press reminded everyone that in 2016, the City of Havana was declared “Wonder City” by the Swiss Foundation New7Wonders “due to its mythical attraction and the joviality of its residents.”

But a symptom of residents’ discontent in the capital was the protest staged by a group of residents that blocked a section of the iconic Paseo del Prado Boulevard. The protesters placed furniture and water tanks in the middle of the street, forcing the political police to intervene.

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One Year after the Tragic Explosion at the Saratoga Hotel

Saratoga, La Habana, cubanos, explosión

MADRID, Spain. – It’s been one year since the unfortunate explosion at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana, which took the lives of 47 people (25 men and 22 women) and injured another hundred.

On that day, restoration work was being conducted in preparation for reopening, which is the reason why most of the victims were hotel workers. The majority of the victims were Cuban nationals, except for one Spanish tourist, a young woman who was vacationing in Cuba and was walking by the hotel when the explosion occurred. Four children and a pregnant woman were also among the fatalities. The last injured individual who was hospitalized was discharged last June 28th.

Although Cuban authorities stated that the explosion had resulted from a gas leak, to date no official report has been published about the reasons for the explosion.

According to Alexis Acosta Silva, mayor of Old Havana municipality, the explosion occurred when a liquid gas container was being unloaded at the hotel. The blast blew the whole façade of the hotel to shreds, right across the Capitol Building, in what is one of the busiest zones in Havana.

The explosion not only destroyed more than half of the Saratoga building, mostly the façade and one of the sides, but also caused severe damage to 17 neighboring buildings. The Office of Havana Historian took charge of restoring four of them: the Martí Theater, the Capitol Building, the Yoruba Cultural Association and El Calvario Baptist Church.

The Saratoga Hotel was built in 1880, and initially it was a warehouse. It was inaugurated as a hotel in 1933. In 2005, a major renovation was undertaken by the Office of Havana Historian, on the occasion of the 486th anniversary of the founding of San Cristóbal de La Habana.

That year, it reopened as a luxury 5-star hotel, with 96 guest rooms, three bars, two restaurants and a business center. Later, a high-end spa and gymnasium were added.

International celebrities had stayed in the hotel, like the Queen of Pop, Madonna, and the American singer Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z the rapper.

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Cuba: A Line of Dust, a Grave for the Living

La Habana, Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba. – “Everything in life comes to an end, except that line of dust that remains between the broom and the dustpan.” I read that phrase on a friend’s page, and at first, I thought it was funny, so much so that I almost burst out laughing, but later, that certainty crushed me and I remembered Kant with certain slyness, Kant, who was interested in “permanence”. And I started thinking of the permanence of dust a while later with a broom on my right hand, trying to hold it tight, and a dustpan on the left.

With every attempt to make the dust go into the dustpan, there were many dust remains left out of it and in front of it…, and then another attempt and again that line of dust persisted. The thing is that dust can be persistent and even impertinent, especially in Cuba. The dust that pesters us is persistent, much more than the persistent insomnia in Virgilio Piñera’s story. Our dust is everywhere, even in the wind.

Cuban dust, the dust of the last 60 years, is of an overwhelming persistence, so much so that it seems unending. We Cubans have a certain appearance of dust, of dust in the wind. The reason is that there is dust everywhere in this island, and it seems to have taken root, dusty roots. Here, dust refuses to go into the dustpan. Perhaps our dust is the most active of all the dusts there have ever been in the world, and the dirtiest one.

Cuba’s dust spreads like no other, and gets everything dusty until it becomes an enormous cloud of dust. Then it becomes mud, a mud that swallows us, that wants to turn us to dust, to mud, and maybe to ashes, in a more volatile state than mere dust. Today, Cuba is that little pile of dust that awaits to be swept into the dustpan, and which is more difficult to sweep into the dustpan every time because it’s much too much dust covering everything with reticence, with so much permanence.

Cuba’s dust is also a sign of death. Dust is what became of the four oil tankers in Matanzas that contained 38 million gallons of oil, and dust is what became of those firefighters that the government now is conveniently forgetting. Forgotten dust are now the victims of the Saratoga Hotel, and dust are the 7.7 square miles of forests lost to fires in Holguín.  Dust and ashes is what’s left of the two men who died a few days ago in the chimney of the “Antonio Guiteras” Thermoelectric Plant.

And wet dust, perhaps not dust at all, are the countless bodies that lie at the bottom of the ocean, those who never successfully bridged the distance between Cuba and Florida, who could not reconcile themselves with the dust, with the dust storm that is Cuba. Could it be that so much dust is a form of atonement for all our guilt, or better yet, for all our obedience?

Cuba is dust; it’s the dust of politicking, of politicking that grows so much it destroys the fields and the crops. Dust are the beings that once cared for these fields and crops, but not enamored dust. The reason is that our dust goes beyond that fine line that gathers up in front of the dustpan and refuses to be swept into the dustpan.

Our dust is the politicking, it’s Communism, it’s its politics, it’s that calamity that remains from Communist power, the one that accompanies death and desolation, and dust itself. Dust, and more dust, and more dust, but never enamored dust. Apparently, this sad island that has been reduced to dust has begun to refuse to be swept into the dustpan, refusing to remain outside those waste collectors that are evidence, also, of our disaster.

It could be that we ourselves are the dust, that we are a sample of the disaster, proof that Cuba no longer wants to live amidst the garbage, and we could become an avalanche that refuses to go into the dustpan. To the Communist bosses, we are nothing more than trash, but trash that is beginning to refuse to be swept into the dustpan and then into the waste collectors.

It seems that now we are more apt, more able to handle the broom and the dustpan. Now we are the ones who will not allow ourselves to be swept with a broom, we are the ones that will not go willingly into the dustpan to take the subsequent trip to the garbage dump, to that trash collector that Cuba resembles more and more every day, especially its government. Sadly, Cuba is that trash collector that sits on the street corners of our cities, the one that’s missing a side panel, that is missing the top, a wheel, two wheels, every wheel.

Communist Cuba is a broken waste collector that can no longer easily hide the garbage or the dust. Cuba is the trash that spills over when the collector’s capacity has been reached. No longer are there tricks with which to hide the trash that went overboard the trash collector. There is no way to hide the garbage that spilt over the dustpan and then the collector. There is no way to hide the garbage that spilt over the dustpan, and the collector, and the garbage truck, and the garbage dump, the many garbage handlers in the garbage dumps, handlers that survive there, and whom we ironically call divers.

Cuba is, also, he who flees the garbage, who leaves it and thus makes it more visible the nonconformists who prefer to be far away from the dustpan. Cuba is that dustpan managed by the Communist Party and the Government, it’s that dustpan which grows less efficient every day. Cuba was a somewhat efficient dustpan, where fear and indifference hid the dust until the dust refused to be swept into the dustpan without objection. The dust is an excess of political demands, the absence of liberties. And that happens frequently in the waste collectors.

Las opiniones expresadas en este artículo son de exclusiva responsabilidad de quien las emite y no necesariamente representan la opinión de CubaNet.

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Delta Airlines Will Resume Flights between Miami and Havana

Delta, La Habana, Miami, vuelos

MADRID, Spain. – The American airline Delta Airlines will resume flights between Miami and Havana after a three-year hiatus. The inaugural flight is scheduled for April 10th, leaving Miami at 9:05 a.m. and arriving at the José Martí International Airport around 10:20 a.m.

As explained by the airline on its official website, two daily flights are scheduled, to be operated on Airbus A320 crafts, with capacity for 157 passengers and three seating options: First Class, Delta Comfort+, and Main Cabin.

“All passengers will be able to select a variety of delicacies, including a diversity of small-brand items such as Kate’s Real Food Lemon Coconut bars, Thrive Farmers Tea, and Du Nord vodka,” informs the airline regarding available products on the flights.

Likewise, the website indicates that clients will be able to enjoy the Delta Studio as a courtesy, with more than one thousand hours of entertainment on board, featuring exclusive content chosen by partners like Peloton and Spotify.

It also offers the possibility of accessing WiFi connectivity on board. Passengers will be able to connect through messaging services such as WhatsApp, iMessage and Facebook Messenger.

Delta Airlines began flying to Cuba in 2016, after a 55-year hiatus. In March of 2020, it interrupted its flights to Cuba once again as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reauthorized commercial and charter flights to nine Cuban airports outside of Havana as of June 2022. Although several companies had already reinstated their flights to the island, Delta had yet to announce its decision to resume services.

Before the pandemic, Delta was flying daily to Havana out of Atlanta, Georgia, city where its hub is located.

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On This Side of Bad Luck and Urban Legends

Cuba, Torre K

HAVANA, Cuba. – The second month of 2023 isn’t quite over yet, and the year is beginning to resemble –actually looking worse than- 2022 as far as “bad luck” is concerned. The explosion at the Caribbean Hotel and the fire that caused a blackout in the eastern half of the island, even if less intensive but similar and equally suspicious in “accidentalness”, are warnings that the “losing streak” is still stuck to our clothes because, evidently, we haven’t known how to rid ourselves of it the right way.

Although resorting to the supernatural for an explanation lacks “objectivity” and is nowhere near professional journalism, an excess of “similarities” and too many “mysteries” makes it easy for us to get goosebumps, especially since in our culture, in our traditions, there is a magic component that makes us think in terms of good and bad “vibes”, in terms of “aché”, “iré” and “osogbo”. Blessings and misfortunes.

Torre K, Cuba
Algunos ven la Torre K como la causa de la miseria que los afecta (Foto del autor)

And if, on the one hand, our superstitions are aided by that “half language” spoken by the official press and the regime itself in its “informative notes” – where secrecy opens the door to rumor and speculation- on the other hand, it becomes impossible to stop paying attention to that ancestral wisdom which at least attempts to give explanations and even solutions to our uncertainty.

However, when we thought everything about “gas leaks” was “under control”, a second explosion takes place in a hotel, in the same “luxury circuit” down Prado Boulevard all the way to Monte Street, and still no one issues conclusive, detailed statements about the causes of the first explosion at the Saratoga Hotel.

And precisely because the official press, under the regime’s instructions, insists that it’s all “a coincidence”, they are the ones that make Cuban men and women convinced that the tragedies are stalking us like divine punishment.

Torre K
Algunas leyendas urbanas comienzan a surgir alrededor de la Torre K (Foto del autor)

In the last few days, I have heard people –and even some friends I didn’t think were very “superstitious”- speak in the street about dozens of magical explanations about why the “signs” and “tragedies” reiterate themselves as if we were trapped in a curse of the evil eye; they wonder about the real source of such misery.

Starting with holy offerings brought from Africa during the Angolan War without the appropriate rituals that now are asking for their return [to Africa], to theories of fanatic Castro lunatics who, disillusioned and mentally affected by Miguel Díaz-Canel’s “continuity” attribute to Fidel Castro’s “angry spirit” this sort of “Marxist-Leninist final judgement” that takes the form of too many “accidents”, explosions and mistakes, including the failure of the economic “reordering”.

Things like that are said in this demented country, so much so that they emerge as urban legends, about buildings and objects in particular. And, if I had heard some already, like, for example, about the “revolutionary miracles” of the burial stone at the Santa Efigenia Cemetery, there are others about the so-called K Tower (the very one that is soon to become the tallest hotel in Cuba on 23rd Avenue in El Vedado) which I just heard when the latest “accidental incidents” took place.

It so happens that some people have begun to find “magical” connections (that are not real) between the rapid rise of the “López-Calleja Tower” and the continued deterioration of neighboring buildings, including the Habana Libre Hotel.

Este edificio exactamente al lado de la Torre K, en la misma calle, se deteriora de modo alarmante (Foto del autor)

“For every window that is installed, a window at the Habana Libre falls, for each floor they build, another one has to be closed down at the Habana Libre,” a neighbor tells me. He has established a relationship between progress at the GAESA skyscraper and the deterioration of the whole city.

“It’s as if it were syphoning the energies of Havana, as if this building were drying up the other building. Just look at how everything is destroyed, and only that building shines amidst so much poverty,” laments this gentleman while he questions what good a building this size will be when no tourists are coming to Cuba and there’s an excess of empty guest rooms in the older hotels.

“Ever since they started building this hotel, everything has gotten worse and worse,” states a lady while making the sign of the cross over her chest and whispering a prayer as she briefly looks at the building and quickly looks away, as if this was “the Devil’s work”.

“It’s diabolic. Just look at how everything has turned grey around it. When we have blackouts at night, this building is the only thing that glows in the dark. You get chills,” states this woman. After giving her “magic” explanation, and perhaps unconsciously, she evades speaking about the true relationship between the regime’s stubbornness for a construction on which it is betting all its resources, and the surrounding neglect, which is related more to the negative effects on the economy, including material shortages that your average Cuban endures.

I take as “curious” the reasons that these people may have, the ones that see “divine signals” instead of the real reasons why the gold dome of the Capitol Building glows, and only a few feet away, the streets where regular people live and stroll deteriorate from the urine, the destruction and the rot. What is happening in Cuba is evident, and it has nothing to do with “bad luck” or with the mediocrity, excesses and ambitions of the military elite that has kidnapped power.

Los contrastes entre la destrucción que nos rodea y el lujo de las inversiones de los militares es la raíz de nuestra mala suerte (Foto del autor)

What is wrong, and will continue to be wrong, is the immobility, the servility, the complicity of those of us who do nothing to change things, which is how we remain in the same damned situation of reaping what we sow.

Just that unhinged are some people around here that they’ll do anything to not face the hard and naked truth. It’s better that they be regarded as demented than as “enemies”. After all, only the enemies are silenced, jailed and punished, while the demented ones are left to wander the streets. There aren’t enough resources at the mental hospitals: those are needed to raise a new hotel.

Las opiniones expresadas en este artículo son de exclusiva responsabilidad de quien las emite y no necesariamente representan la opinión de CubaNet.

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There Are a Lot of Crazy People in Havana

La Habana, Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba. – When I was a kid, I often ran into this bearded mulatto man, in his forties. He was well-built –he looked like a boxer- and pulled a wooden wagon filled with debris every day, at any hour of the day, up and down Calzada de Diez de Octubre, in both direction. He always wore clothes made of burlap, smoked the cigarette butts he picked up from the floor in a huge pipe, and seldom spoke a word.

People used to say that he was from Párraga; that he had been a cop during Batista’s government; that he had killed several people, and that from hiding so much and pretending to be deranged in order to escape prison or the firing squad, he had gone mad.

The last time I saw him, he no longer pulled the wooden wagon. I ran into him more than 25 years ago. He was very old and much thinner, and the other passengers kept far away from him, not out of fear but because he smelled awful.

Growing up in the neighborhood of La Víbora, I was surrounded by nuts: Violeta, Guayaba, Pela-muertos, Juana Macho, La Marquesa and La China, who claimed to be engaged in “honest work”.

Each neighborhood in Havana had its own deranged people, they were part of the landscape. The most important of them all, Caballero de París –the Gentleman from Paris- was a symbol of the city. Always dignified, dressed in black, his skin like wax, newspapers lining his chest under his three-quarter coat if it was cold; with his beard that preceded the revolutionaries’ beard, and his long, curly hair that preceded Robert Plant’s.

Caballero de París died in an asylum some years after the authorities picked him up and put him away. They cut his hair and shaved him, gave him a bath and assigned him clean clothes, prescription medication, and gave him breakfast, lunch and dinner, all at the State’s expense. There was no room for a lunatic, no matter how emblematic he was, to roam the streets in the revolutionary paradise that the rulers wanted to show off to friendly visitors.

After the Special Period debacle, no one cared any more about hiding the nuts. In fact, in Old Havana, certain crazies are conveniently dressed up as folkloric characters –they give them self-employment licenses- and make them into tourist attractions. If young prostitutes already are, why not the loonies?

A decade ago, Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco proclaimed to the rhythm of timba music that “there are a bunch of lunatics in Havana.” The thing is that, traditionally, there were always crazy people who walked the streets of the city, but not as many as one sees today.

One does not have to be a sociologist to explain the reasons for the proliferation of demented folks walking the streets: the overwhelming daily stress with which people must live, poor nutrition, shortage of medications and a long etcetera.

In the psychiatric hospitals, unless it’s a serious case or someone without relatives to take care of them, one cannot get a patient admitted. And what difference does it make, anyway, if there are no medications to prescribe the patients.

I know people who have had to purchase in the black market the pills that their hospitalized relatives need while in the Mazorra Psychiatric Hospital, because hospital authorities have told them that they do not have the medications nor do they know when they’ll get a supply.

The nuts from my childhood were pleasant, and sometime even likeable. It wouldn’t have occurred to them to be impertinent or aggressive like the ones you see today walking the sidewalks of Havana, harassing tourists or screaming on the buses already very crowded with sweaty people who are worried about their daily problems. When they aren’t screaming, they screech out old boleros –Benny Moré seems to be their favorite- or Mexican rancheras or Nelson Ned ballads.

Many of them went from being alcoholics to being demented. What’s worst: they still smell of liquor. Drinking, on top of going hungry, complicates things for deranged folks, more so if they’ve served jail time.

In recent years, there are more and more demented people asking for food handouts around restaurants. Some of them have hatred in their eyes, as if we were all guilty of what’s happening.

On Route P6, I often see an octogenarian who lives in Reparto Eléctrico. He will insist that he fought in the Sierra Maestra and is willing to die for the Revolution, and at the same time he will tell you: “I am the real American”.

It’s shocking the number of crazy people who claim that they earned military rank in the Sierra Maestra, on the Girón battle during the Bay of Pigs invasion, or in the war in Angola. Some of them claim to be close to the bosses and to have familial access to them. When people hear them, they usually say “they went crazy because of this regime.”

Also, there are many –more every day- who burst out with expletives against the regime. Sometimes I hear lunatics speak the truths loud and clear that sane people dare not speak. I don’t understand why what they say would seem funny to anyone, or annoy anyone, as if the delirious and worn-out discourse of our rulers weren’t more absurd and annoying. As if all of us weren’t, in one way or another, patients in this great insane asylum that Cuba was turned into by a bunch of lunatics with a Communist Party ID.

Las opiniones expresadas en este artículo son de exclusiva responsabilidad de quien las emite y no necesariamente representan la opinión de CubaNet.

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Mexican Airline Viva Aerobus Inaugurates Flight to Havana

Viva Aerobus, México, vuelo, La Habana

MADRID, Spain. – Low-cost Mexican airline Viva Aerobus started a neew route to Havana this week from Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA, by its Spanish acronym), which was inaugurated in March of this year and is located in the state of México.

“We are inaugurating new routes from the new airport in Mexico City (AIFA). Do you know them already? Fly on our first international route round-trip to and from Havana, and on our temporary round-trip to and from Tijiuana,” stated the company on its Twitter account.

The inaugural flight from AIFA took off this December 14th at 8:55 a.m.

Isidoro Pastor, AIFA’s General Manager, was quoted by Reportur as saying: “The growth of Viva Aerobus in our airport is proof of the quality of service and cutting-edge infrastructure with which we treat all our passengers. We are grateful for Viva Aerobus confidence and its commitment to strengthen connectivity in the Mexivo Valley metropolitan area. Together, we will continue to transport more passengers; at AIFA today, we are serving an average of over 8,000 passengers on a daily basis.”

Juan Carlos Zuazua, Viva Aerobus’ General Manager, said about the new flight to Cuba: “With this new route, we are connecting our capital city with a country with which México has great bonds.”

With this new flight, Cubans will have another path for leaving Cuba, since the majority of Cubans who are interested in leaving the island use México as a springboard to reach the United States, especially when the new destination, far from the Mexican capital, has no special tourist or commercial interest.

Viva Aerobus, which is running nine flights to Cuba, started its operations in the island in 2018.

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The Capri Hotel, the first hotel-and-casino built by mobsters in Havana

Hotel Capri, Cuba

MIAMI, United States. – Havana’s Capri Hotel was inaugurated on November 27th, 1957. It is one of the most representative hotels in the capital.

The Capri was the result of an investment opening process started in 1955 by dictator Fulgencio Batista, who promulgated Hotel Law 2074 that year.

This was a measure that offered tax incentives, government loans and casino licenses to anyone who wished to build hotels in Havana valued at US$ 1 million or more, and nightclubs valued at US$ 200,000.

The law brought notorious mobster Meyer Lansky and several of his partners to Cuba; they started to fill the city with hotels and casinos.

In that sense, the Capri was one of the first hotels to be constructed in Havana that was owned by mobsters, for the Capri specifically the American Santo Trafficante Jr., who ceded the management of the hotel to Nicholas Di Costanzo, the mobster Charles Turin and Santino Masselli.

Originally, the hotel had nineteen floors and 250 guest rooms, which made it one of the largest hotel-and-casinos in the Cuban capital.

The Capri Hotel was nationalized by the regime of Fidel Castro in October 1960 and the casino was shut down by his own orders.

The hotel came to be known as the Horizontes Capri Hotel in the 1990s.

The facility closed in 2003 and reopened in January 2014 following important restorations; the Spanish hotel group NH took over its management.

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Happiness Can Be Found in San Isidro, Not in Marianao

HAVANA, Cuba. – The British magazine Time Out has included the San Isidro neighborhood in Old Havana among the 25 “coolest” neighborhoods around the world. To reach such a conclusion, the magazine gathered the opinions of thousands of individuals across the world, “as well as the opinions of editors and local journalists who write about the best places found at each destination.” The factors that determine that a specific neighborhood will be featured in that listing include the leisure and entertainment offers, innovative spaces and a city’s effort to make of these spots an attractive gathering place for locals and tourists alike.

Once again, we residents of Havana are left speechless with having extraordinary places within our geography; places that we visit frequently – even on a daily basis- and yet we have not noticed their swing or the innovation that makes them so unique and attractive. It is our fault, of course, for thinking about the other 24 neighborhoods on the list that we so much wish to visit even though we have never heard about them before.

Last July, two fellow Cubans astonished us with their statements about Marianao, so rich and plentiful –according to them- that some of us were left very confused, even worried about the mental health of the interviewees.

It soon became evident that the interview was trolling the state press. But the Time Out listing is for real, so much so that the shock of seeing the San Isidro neighborhood on par with twenty-plus communities located in prosperous and cosmopolitan cities made us go walking around San Isidro for the umpteenth time, but paying more attention.

If something must be said about the San Isidro neighborhood today it’s how clean it is when compared to other marginal neighborhoods in Havana, and the number of murals whose colors try to hide the many dilapidated buildings, propped-up balconies, the shortages and poverty everywhere. What Time Out magazine is praising today is exactly the part of the neighborhood that was left out of the Master Plan of the Office of the City Historian when, in 1997, the San Isidro People’s Council was split into two smaller neighborhoods: Belén and the new San Isidro, still affected by recent events linked to the San Isidro Movement, repression and political control.

Murales en el barrio de San Isidro (Fotos: CubaNet)

Colors aside, the San Isidro neighborhood looks gloomy and quiet, like any other corner in a country that is dying. Young people spend hours just sitting on their doorsteps, allowing themselves to be defeated by boredom, lost inside the screens of their mobile phones. The “Casa de Titón y Mirta”, a cinema cultural center, is featuring a series of Cuban films that most people have seen a thousand times. Many private businesses have disappeared due to the absence of tourists, inflation, and the constant assault on real and lasting progress.

A barter and reselling economy earns an individual just enough to eat, but not for even the cheapest drink in the few bars that remain open, and empty. According to two individuals who agreed to talk to Cubanet anonymously, at night things are more or less the same.

“There’s nothing here for anyone. Many people have left the country, others are in prison, others are out there trying to make ends meet, it’s the same everywhere,” a resigned lady stated. She agrees with “bringing back to life” the neighborhood, but she knows the reasons why the government has suddenly taken an interest in the neighborhood.

Esquina del barrio de San Isidro (Foto: CubaNet)

The reason lies in that the San Isidro neighborhood became known inside and outside of Cuba thanks to the peaceful protests of artists like Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Osorbo, two young Cuban men who remain in prison under charges trumped-up by State Security police. This is the truth that Time Out magazine will never feature next to the “dark salsa-dancing places”, or the famous bar that glorifies the name of an early 20th century pimp, or the speakers blasting the music that’s in vogue on every street corner.

That’s how the San Isidro neighborhood has been described by those that consider it among the coolest neighborhoods in the world, in spite of the fact that the “joy to live” flees terrified from San Isidro due to the never-ending crisis; in spite of bars having no cold beer due to the blackouts; and in spite of the fact that the definition of “art mecca” doesn’t make the grade, as happens every time they try to hide reality with exaggerated statements. Markets and produce shops have been decorated to distract the visitor and to avoid that he or she wants to know what items are sold to the people in those raddled and defaced shops, as dark and empty as the revolution that never was.

Panadería y bodega en el barrio de San Isidro (Fotos: CubaNet)

Actor Jorge Perugorría could not be left out of this narrative as promotor of the bohemian and “chic” environment that, allegedly, distinguishes this traditionally poor neighborhood. However, beyond his interest in turning a formerly “tolerance zone” into an outdoor art gallery, the beloved Diego from the film “Fresa y Chocolate” (Strawberry and Chocolate), has been a key component of the Cuban regime’s plam to erase from the collective memory everything about the San Isidro Movement and the hunger strike that some of its members went on to demand freedom of expression and artistic freedom.

“I feel very sorry for that young man. He is in prison, and out here everything remains the same. Nobody cares. Those who can, leave, and those who can’t leave just keep their routine and don’t get involved (…). For nothing, that boy is in jail for nothing,” says a much older man about Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, while emphasizing that the artists sacrificed himself in vain, because “our people live in fear and without shame (…) we have lost all shame,” he concludes and starts walking away down Paula Street, where José Martí, one of our founding fathers, was born, toward Port’s Avenue by the harbor in Havana.

Las opiniones expresadas en este artículo son de exclusiva responsabilidad de quien las emite y no necesariamente representan la opinión de CubaNet.

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British Magazine Includes San Isidro among the World’s Coolest Neighborhoods

Barrio de San Isidro, en La Habana

MIAMI, United States. – San Isidro, one of Havana’s poorest neighborhoods, has been ranked number 14 among the “coolest” neighborhoods in the world, according to the list developed annually by the magazine Time Out.

The publication states that San Isidro has gone from being a “tolerance zone” in the early 19th century to becoming an “art mecca” in Havana.

Time Out states that San Isidro’s rebirth goes hand in hand with actor Jorge Perugorría, whose Gallery-Workshop Gorría has maintained a veritable explosion of murals since 2016 which have added lifelines to the place. It also highlights the “roof-top bars, salsa spaces in the dark, and a sound system in every corner.”

In spite of the fact that most of its members are in jail or in exile, the magazine also highlights the San Isidro movement, known for its overt opposition to the Cuban regime.

A perfect day’s routine at San Isidro, according to Time Out, includes enjoying the people, having a daiquiri at 20 Jesús María Street, taking in the art work in the open air, eating croquettes and pastries, and ending the day with mojitos and live jazz at the Yarini roof-top bar.

The magazine also summoned visitors to enjoy Havana’s Carnival, which was called off this year due to the serious crisis the country is facing.

Although Time Out assures the readership that it gathers the opinions of thousands of tourists from across the world, as well as the points of views of editors and local journalists when it comes time to develop its list of cool neighborhoods, the description of the San Isidro neighborhood seems like that of a place that undoubtedly does not exist.

It should be noted that San Isidro is not only one of the poorest neighborhoods in Havana, but also one with the worst infrastructure. In recent years, dozens of families have been displaced by frequent building collapses, and still others survive in buildings without even minimal safety conditions.

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