Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cuba: Havana Evictions Highlight Housing Shortage

This article originally appeared in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,

Havana Evictions Highlight Housing Shortage

Homeless Cubans squat in disused state properties. 

By Lisbán Hernández Sánchez - Latin America 

Housing is in such short supply in Cuba that many people end up squatting in public buildings. When local government evicts them, it rarely has alternative accommodation to offer them.

In one recent case, three families were left homeless after they were evicted from a disused health clinic in Alamar, a municipality close to the capital Havana. The evictions took place on April 9.

Ailet Hernández and her three children were among those forcibly removed from the premises by local government officers, police and Communist Party functionaries.

Hernández said she had previously applied for housing assistance, but had been fobbed off by officials who told her to wait and see, and her case might be dealt with.

Another of those evicted was Giorgio Rivera Olivera, who is living with HIV. He said he had written to the Cuban parliament and other state institutions about his housing needs but had received no response.

Rivera Olivera is now sleeping in an abandoned bus near the beach at Alamar, while Hernández and her children are sheltering at local bus terminals and hospitals, according to residents of the area.

An official from the local housing department who asked to remain anonymous said there was no accommodation available for those made homeless in the evictions.

The people evicted from the clinic are among an estimated 100,000 people on waiting lists for land plots or housing. Many squat in abandoned public buildings or on the land. (See also Squatters Take Over State Land in Cuba.)

The government is aware of the acute housing shortage. In a 2005 report, the state housing agency said Cuba was short of over half a million homes, and in order to fill the gap, it would have to build 80,000 homes annually – a quarter of them in Havana – over a ten-year period. But six years later, the housing deficit was officially put at 600,000 – higher than before.

To reduce the burden on the state, the Cuban authorities now subsidise residents to repair existing homes or build new ones.

Although evictions are now quite common, pro-government figures have denied they happen.

On a recent tour of Spain, the deputy head of the Cuban Association of Economists and Accountants, Hugo Pons, told the newspaper Público that in Cuba “the word eviction doesn’t exist – not only does it not exist, it isn’t part of the regulatory framework”. In the same article, state journalist Iroel Sánchez insisted that “they can’t throw you out of your house. Cubans don’t understand that; it isn’t part of their culture.”

Lisbán Hernández Sánchez is an independent journalist in Havana and founder of the Giraldilla Information Centre.

This article first appeared on IWPR's website.