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Cuba: The “Cuban Dream” includes squatter’s rights

By Sandra Vigil Fonseca


HAVANA — I arrive at my flat. There is my mom, who is old, and then here is July, her niece. She has 3 kids and is pregnant again.

I leave my keys, which I don’t want to lose, in a small pot. I need water. It’s a
million degrees outside. Who cares?


July has come with only one child. Thank god!

She is waiting. The other kids are with their father. She is waiting.

Maybe tonight, maybe the day after tomorrow. She will have a house, an apartment. July moved to Havana from another province 10 years ago. She has a new man now, who is not the father of this unborn child, or no child of her’s.

I heard them talking to my mom. We are always in the kitchen hiding from the guests of our bed and breakfast — the Norwegians, French, Americans.

Lunch is going in the pressure cooker. Chicken fricassee. Also, fried plantains in boiling oil. I’m trying to eat healthier. I learned that in Canada.

There are not many fried foods in Vancouver. Mmmmm, salmon sashimi. I miss it.

Everybody looks at me. What’s that? Uncooked fish? You girl, you came from another planet.

I’m drinking room temperature water (very hot) and I hear July notifying my mom about her plans. They have everything ready. There is a suitcase in the neighbor’s place. The family who occupies their future flat is immigrating to the States. The Cuban government already inventoried every single furniture, appliance and accessory inside
that house.

The authorities will seal the apartment one night before their departure. They will have to sleep somewhere else their last night in Cuba. What a nice memory!

Of course, they will also leave all their possessions behind. But that is a small price to pay. They are on a quest for the American Dream.

The water doesn’t help. Maybe, some ice in the cup. The fridge can’t hold much more. We need a bigger one. So, the plan is that tonight, July, her three kids and her new man are going to break the government seal on this flat and occupy it illegally.

It is not a great place, so, nobody has their eyes on it; except for, perhaps, other families in desperate need of space like them.

The only two rooms have been built over the original living space. A barbacoa! A truly Cuban creation. Made at two meters from the floor taking advantage of the antique high ceilings that were built to alleviate the heat.

“I’m not going to pay 4,000 CUC for a bachelor’s flat on the “black” market!” July says. “And then, the lawyer’s fees to put it in my name. There is no “white” housing market around here. Buying, selling property is illegal.

“They are not going to kick us out. I have three kids and one more coming. We are a social case.”

I stop sweating and start paying attention to her story. I sit down by her side. July has lost a lot of calcium from her teeth. She wears my old clothes.

“I don’t have anywhere to stay,” she continues. “The kids are sleeping at their father’s house and the two of us, we are staying in a nearby park.”

July looks nice though; her eyes are sweet.

“I don’t know what we are doing tonight. We have to stay around the flat to make sure nobody gets in before us.,” July explains. “They can’t let us know when they’re leaving. The apartment has been recently repaired. It is an old building near the train station. We won’t have to walk a lot when we want to visit my father in Bayamo.”

She smiles at my mom.

“It also has ceiling fans and there is a small bed. Of course, we will need some furniture later on.”

The phone rings. We all look at it. Maybe it’s the neighbor. She will call if there is some movement. No. Still waiting.

The water starts boiling. It will for another 15 minutes to kill all the bacteria. The kitchen becomes a sauna and so, we eat. July, her daughter, the new man, my mother and I.

Let’s hope the authorities don’t mind and let them stay.


Learn more about Sandra

Sandra Vigil Fonseca is a Cuban-Canadian who holds B.Sc. in Biology from the University of Havana, Cuba. After completing her degree, she began working as a Cultural Anthropologist for the prestigious National Anthropology Institute of the Academy of Science of Cuba where she worked directly with marginalized communities on poverty research projects.

Sandra’s participation in these projects inspired her first film documentary entitled: Cuba Adentro (Cuba Within). This film sheds light on the complex situation and the multitude of contradictions of these communities within the context of socialist Cuba.

Her films have been presented at the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival 2005, Havana Film Festival in New York, 2005 and 2009, Universidad Autonoma de Mexico Film Festival 2006, Alucine Film Festival 2005 and 2008 and Muestra de Jovenes Realizadorez in Cuba 2008.

Sandra is a member of the Union Nacional de Artistas y Escritores de Cuba since 2006 and to the Asociación de Jóvenes Creadores Hermanos Saiz since 2004. She has won awards including Cinergia Central American Filmmakers Encounter, San José, Costa Rica 2005 mentioned in the script Accidente at the III Cuban young filmmakers Festival, 2004.

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