Broken Families in Cuba
Broken Families in Cuba / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 2 April 2016 — The dilapidated old house where the Varona
family lives, in the Lawton district of Havana, could serve very well as
a set for a television series about marginalisation and violence.
The front wall cries out for a coat of paint. Cracked roof tiles
threaten to fall off. And inside, the house is subdivided into seven
Agustín, one of tenants, has an informal business selling building
materials. Therefore he has been able to improve his apartment with
Italian ceramic floor tiles, build a tiny bathroom with a modern shower
and hot and cold running water.
His room has a heavy Samsung Split air conditioner. Opposite the bed is
a tiled table with a microwave, induction cooker and a two-door fridge.
The rest of the apartments are absolute ruins, with dirty old beds, but
other bedrooms have been treated with grouting. On shelves on the wall,
tacky plastic ornaments and empty rum bottles. And, of course, every
room secured with bars on the windows and doors.
“It’s to avoid being robbed, which is common here. Hardly anyone speaks
to us. Some of them are trying to legalise their place as a separate
dwelling. There are various ration books. And when the people come to
fumigate the mosquitos it’s a shambles, because not everyone is at home,
or they don’t allow them to fumigate. The atmosphere is like a prison,
but I’ve got nowhere else to live,” admits Agustín.
Of the sixteen people who live in the house, twelve of them have family
ties through their mother or father. The quarrels range from obscene
shouting, punch-ups, up to fighting with machetes.
“It’s like a jungle. People get beaten up for anything, because someone
has eaten up the bread ration, or stolen a piece of chicken from the
fridge,” says Raisa, who lives in this jungle with her husband and daughter.
There are three refrigerators in what was the living room of the house.
They all have padlocks, as if they contained valuables. In the
neighbourhood they call them Los Muchos. “When they start their fights,
you don’t know when they’ll finish. They have set up a protocol in the
block. When the insults start, a neighbour informs the police,” a
neighbour tells us.
These degrading spectacles form part of the neighbourhood entertainment.
“These fights make people want to grab a front-row seat. They are more
entertaining than TV soaps, and some fights are more enjoyable than a
boxing match programme,” a neighbour told us.
You might think this is an isolated case. It isn’t. Too many Cuban
families have split up for silly little things, ideologies or marital
When Fidel Castro seized power at gunpoint, a large number of families
began to break up. “There were examples of brothers who fought at the
Bay of Pigs or in Escambray on different sides. Families who stopped
talking to each other, writing or accepting phone calls from family
members in Florida just for thinking differently. The government owes a
public apology to these broken families,” said Carlos, a sociologist.
For reasons of economic necessity, when they got married, Sergio and
Margot agreed to accept money and food and clothing parcels from their
daughter Yanira, a prostitute who married an Italian in 1994.
“Before my sister left, my parents broke off contact with her. Then,
when she went off to Italy, they said that as far as they were
concerned, their daughter was dead. My parents were, and still are,
intransigent communists. But, when the ’Special Period’ started, with
twelve hours of power cuts and an extreme shortage of food, the old
people relented. And now they are living off the euros and things sent
them by my sister. She comes every summer and arranges a party in the
doorway of the house of the president of the CDR (Committee for the
Defence of the Revolution),” explains Ramsés, Yanira’s brother.
The other problem suffered by many families is domestic violence and
marital arguments in front of their kids. “Cases of mistreatment of
women are frequent. Most of them, because they are ashamed, don’t report
them. But I believe that right now, domestic violence is the number one
category of crime in Cuba,” said a police inspector in Havana.
These dysfunctional family members are the germ of the perfect storm of
the decline of values in Cuba. Until the autocrat Raúl Castro launches a
crusade to end it. They run from, for example, vulgar speech, bad
manners and lack of courtesy, up to drunks boozing on street corners and
then urinating in the street.
For the sociologist Carlos, this degradation “is a terrible
anthropological damage. Developing the economy and rebuilding the
country should be simpler. But poor education, violence and lack of
respect for your neighbour’s private space will be difficult to remedy.”
And it is not the fault of the US embargo.
Appeared in: Hispanopost, 30 de marzo de 2016.
Translated by GH
Source: Broken Families in Cuba / Iván García – Translating Cuba –