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Investigating Property and Human Rights in Cuba
[January 1, 2005]

(Pursuing one’s individual rights in Cuba when they clash with the system is not well viewed by most bureaucrats. While events herein occurred before the recent law reestablishing the capitalist principle of housing speculation for profit in socialist Cuba, they mirror the general reality.)

Clad in cycling shorts and rubber-cleat shoes, Rolando hefted his racing bicycle over his shoulder and climbed the stairs to the Popular Power Havana Municipal Government building. He swung open the glass front door and, without glancing about, strode straight toward a staircase. Clerks looked up surprised but no one interfered with this odd spectacle.

I followed up the stairs with my bicycle upon my shoulder and we walked into an office.

“Oh, Rolando, hello. I see you brought your transportation with you. Please put it down by the wall,” the municipality worker remarked pleasantly.

“You know there is no safe place to park bicycles without some thief nipping them,” Rolando replied matter-of-factly. “This is my friend, Ron.”

After greetings, the clerk handed Rolando the document he had come for. He’d been here often, seeking to obtain permission to alter the roof of his aunt’s house. This document was the final approval enabling him to remove that part of the roof directly over a room occupied by a squatter. Rolando’s plan was to make life so miserable for the unwanted squatter that he would leave his aunt’s house.

Rolando was in his late 30s, a masseur and trainer for athletes. He had the chest of a boxer, the legs of a marathon cyclist, and the brains of what could have been Cuba’s first nuclear physicist had he not defied the rules of party protocol. But that is another story. Now, Rolando had a mission to protect his aunt’s private property and her sanity.

I went along for the ride to see how the socialist system works in an ordinary case of conflict of interests between social and individual housing rights, and of citizens confronting the government, and to report on what I learned. Although the time frame of this investigation took place some time ago, the essential facts remain reality today. I recount these characters’ stories and views as they see them.

Although I was a foreign resident, I was not denied access to anywhere Rolando went on this sojourn into bureaucracy’s labyrinth. Nor was I ever insulted, despite being a citizen of the northern neighbor that illegally occupies part of Cuba’s sovereign land at Guantánamo province, from where its military base is a threat to the nation’s very existence.

US Aggresion

Since 2002, the US has added insult to injury by turning the aggressive military installation at Guatánamo into a concentration camp where it illegally incarcerates several hundreds of people from 45 countries. The United States government implies a nefarious connection between Cuba and these so-called terrorists. The US government claims that Cuba is an “evil terrorist state”, and then denies basic rights of defense and even tortures prisoners, whom it claims are “terrorists”.

Ever since a few hundred insurgents won a popular revolution on New Years day 1959, the US government has sought to overthrow, often with violence, the government led by President Fidel Castro. Part of the conflict between these nations centers on the contradictory socio-economic and political systems by which the two states guide their societies. In brief, Cuba prefers a collective-oriented society, guaranteeing the right to life (affordable food, shelter and clothing, and free medical care and education), while curtailing the economic freedom of individual property and the civil liberties of free speech and press. There is no need to delineate what the United States prefers.

In 1988, the US launched its illegal and subversive “TV Martí”, known in
Cuba as “TV Aggression”. On the first night of broadcast from Washington
DC, I was with several national and international reporters in the Ministry
of Communication to watch Cuban technicians jam its signal in Cuba. The
US continues to use hundreds of millions of dollars to broadcast a channel
no one sees.

On April 16, 1961, as United States planes dropped bombs on Havana in preparation for landing mercenary forces, the Cuban government declared its direction to be a socialist one. One of its early laws radically changed residential rents and ownership. Rental and mortgage payments must not exceed ten percent of one’s wage, and rent paid to the government goes towards ownership of the abode. This law remains intact and today three-fourths of Cubans own their residences, although they may not sell them for profit or without permission of the government. The Popular Power National Assembly (a unicameral legislature) has revised housing laws several times in the past four decades, in an effort to provide housing for all, and to balance the rights of private property with the collective needs of the whole society. Nevertheless, individual property rights often come into conflict with social needs and available economic resources. Government employees and private citizens interviewed consider the housing dilemma to be one of Cuba’s most difficult problems—unrelated to the United States.

Feisty Fidel-loathing Celestina

Rolando’s aunt, Celestina Díaz Calderón, was 78 years-old at the time Rolando received her long-awaited roof permit. She was gray and knarred but had her wits and was as feisty as ever. Two years before the revolution, Celestina and her husband had built a small three-bedroom house in Guanabo, on a lot about 100 meters from a white sandy beach, 25 kilometers east of Havana. Seeking supplemental income, they added two one-room structures with tiny kitchens and bathrooms. This is prized property because it is near Havana’s closest tourist beach at Santa Maria del Mar, where dollars have been the exclusive currency since the collapse of socialist Europe. At this beach, the sea is as emerald blue and the coconut palms as curvaceous as at the world-famous Varadero beach resort further east.

Like all pensioned women, Celestina receives social security, 70 percent of her highest wage. Women can retire at 55 and men at 60. [This was changed in 2008 to 60 and 65 years.] Celestina lives on this paltry sum, plus a sporadic rental fee. She charges 20 pesos a day, and is relatively rich by normal Cuban standards. Now, that her daughter is grown and moved out, and her husband long dead, she could rent out both extra rooms. But the squatter put a stop to that long ago.

In 1968, Lazaro Martinez Pulido stopped over to ask if he could stay for the night in one of their back rooms.

“He was a slight acquaintance who had problems with his wife,” Celestina recounted. “Martinez wanted to provoke jealousy, or so he said, by being with another woman. Well, you know what happened? The bastard stayed on night after night, bringing first one woman then another. He ended up divorcing his wife and staying here.”

Celestina says she didn’t want the man to stay but her husband was a “generous man.”

Not long thereafter, her husband died and Celestina told Martinez to leave but he refused.

“I insisted, and he acted tough with me and my daughter. He’s a bus driver and a volunteer policeman. He has a pistol and he began wearing it around the yard just to scare us. I filed a lawsuit against Martinez for illegal occupancy.”

On November 4, 1974, the Ministry of Justice’s municipal office in Guanabacoa issued resolution 1163/74, which states that Martinez and his new wife, “must abandon the house whose only owner is Celestina Diaz Caledron” and her daughter. Justice officials also determined that the squatters must be relocated “in a residency fitting their needs.” The National Institute of Housing (INV) is responsible for all such relocations.

Nothing happened for years. Tensions mounted. Martinez and Celestina did not speak to each other.

On the sly, Martinez arranged to get his own gas, electricity and water, and a food ration card associated with his illegal residency. Being part of the police network, a good word was placed in the right place for him. His antagonist, after all, was a “self-seeking, profiteering Fidel hater”.

Twelve years had passed since the Guanabacoa government had issued its order before the housing officials issued its own order for Martinez to abandon the premises. Still nothing happened for several more years. Rolando finally came to his aunt’s aid.

“We wrote to that dictator Fidel Castro only after Rolando convinced me to,” she told me angrily. “I never trust him to do any good.”

Within a few days, the Council of State, the highest executive power, responded, stating it had sent the matter to the provincial housing office requesting action.

“We waited another six months,” Rolando related. “I made copies of all the documentation and sent letters to the housing authority and all the utility companies asking them to investigate Martinez´ illegal status as a customer. I intend to find out personally why no one, including the police, has acted. Come along.”


This is a 1994 photo of the author standing behind the gate to his house in Ataby, on the outskirts of Havana. The sign reads: “This is a revolutionary house. We use only national currency with pride. Please do not bother (with $). Thank you. Long Live Che!”

We cycled another 20 kilometers to the Russian-Cuban built Alamar projects, which look more Russian gray than tropical, where the prosecuting attorney handles matters for the area which includes Celestina house. Rolando had made an appointment, but his secretary said he was out.

“Look, I made an appointment yesterday,” Rolando explained firmly but patiently. “I took off work, losing my wage for today.”

The secretary told us to wait. An hour later, we were called into the prosecutor’s office.

“I wrote to this office two months ago and have not received a reply,” Rolando exclaimed to the prosecutor, David Corvea Oviedo. “My aunt is old and doesn’t wish to die a nervous wreck over this man, a man who has harassed her for decades. If she were a man, she’d have put him out physically.”

“I don’t know why your letter wasn’t answered,” Corvea replied in a tired voice. “I see that the documents are in order and that your aunt is entitled to justice. The problem is there are so many similar cases that a general solution must be found. All the Popular Power governmental organizations are planning to meet to find an answer to these matters. In the meantime, I will call the local police to find out their position. You write me a detailed letter of all the steps taken so far.”

Rolando agreed, and added: “I want you to ask the police to issue an order to kick Martinez out, but be aware that he has friends on the force.”

“I can’t do that. Only the housing authority can request the police to remove a squatter, and their hands are tied, unless there is a violent situation.”

Corvea showed us the latest housing law. It calls for sanctions to be taken against illegal occupants, but numerous exceptions exist for those without alternative housing. These include: older people, single mothers, split up married couples, and a general exception in cases where competent authorities determine that ousting the illegal would “constitute an unjust or inhuman act.”

The sanctions call for deductions of 30% of the delinquent’s wage for three months. If he still refuses to move, deductions are increased to 50% for an unspecified time. Only in cases of “antisocial conduct” is there reference to police intervention.

“You see, the law is based on the reality that there is a housing shortage,” the prosecutor summed up. “In practice, people are not kicked out in the streets. Everybody must have a place to live, according to our revolutionary laws, according to humanitarian values. So what is the state to do if there aren’t enough houses? Well, he could be told to move back to where he came from, but the chances are it’s been too many years and he’s lost his roots.”

Exactly.

Next week, I read Rolando’s legal-like letter to the prosecutor. He detailed each step taken over the years and he included that Martinez had illegally run frayed cable into his abode from overhead electric wires. Rolando enclosed copies of the permissions granted by municipal authorities to alter the roof and to build a fence around the entire property. We set out to visit each utility company to find out what could be done about the illegal use of utilities, and Rolando began to acquire materials for a fence. “We’re closing him in,” Rolando chuckled.

Police complicity

Guanabo police station was our first stop. We parked our bikes up against a wall inside the station and Rolando explained the situation to the head transit policeman.

“On top of everything, the squatter mocked police authority by placing a homemade sign in their name. It reads: `No parking by order of PNR´.” (Revolutionary National Police)

“You should talk to the sector chief about kicking out the illegal and you can take down the sign yourself,” the policeman responded.

He refused to explain why Rolando should remove the sign rather than the police, and he denied us his name.

We cycled to the water department. Chief engineer Marcelino Porro listened sympathetically. He understood that because housing authorities and police were sitting on their hands Rolando wanted to pressure the illegal to abandon the residency by getting his utilities turned off.

“I’ll write a letter to the aqueduct people explaining that the use of water at Martinez´ `place´ is not authorized. I won’t say that the meter was put in illegally, but between you and me I know that it was. Nevertheless, you must understand that the man has a right, as a human being, to have water.”
We showed the chief engineer’s letter at the aqueduct office.

“Yep, it makes sense,” an employee replied. “There are things in the law that are not complied with, and things that happen that are beyond the law. It’s quite possible that long ago, when this illegal wanted utilities, he paid somebody under the table to set up a meter and get his own account. But I’ll have a problem if I investigate. For water access, this address pertains to Intur, and the tourist firm doesn’t want any problems either. I suggest, however, that you start there.”

Another day, we took the legal documents and the chief engineer’s letter to the tourist Intur office. A secretary said that the manager, Mr. Lamas, wasn’t in. We cycled around town, stopped for an expreso coffee, and returned to find Lamas coming into the office. After hearing Rolando’s case briefly, he snarled contemptuously at Rolando’s intent to apply legalities on his domain.

“Don’t tell me how to do my job,” he barked, turned his back and slammed the door in our faces.

At the electric company, a female clerk looked into the files.

“Yes, you are right. Martinez has no legal right to electricity. A bill is not even sent to him. He probably presented a letter to somebody in the electric company and persuaded that person to ignore his illegal hookup.”

She set up an appointment with the electric company director, and next day he agreed to have the meter removed.

Two weeks after the date agreed upon, an electric meter worker came to Celestina’s house. Rolando and I were waiting for him, but so was the squatter. He was stocky and beer-bellied, unshaven and furrow-browed.

“Don’t you touch my meter! You do and I’ll bring the police on you!”

The meter man backed off. He told Martinez he’d give him three days to produce legal documentation entitling him to a meter or he’d be disconnected. When the worker returned four days later, having received no documentation from Martinez, the squatter shouted at him again and suddenly a policeman appeared. The worker showed the policeman the company order to cut off the electricity, explaining that Martinez had obtained electricity illegal and unsafely.

The policeman feigned a glance at the paperwork.

“No matter. You can’t turn off his electricity.”

The worker threw his hands into the air, walked to his vehicle and drove away.

The police helped Martinez with the fence and gas fights as well.

I observed the first encounter between Martinez and Rolando when the latter measured the area for fencing. The squatter burst out of his shack.

“You clowns get out of here. A fence is not coming up here. It will cut off my entrance. I’ll get the police. I’ll tear down any fence you put up!”

He wouldn’t talk with me because I was associated with Rolando and Celestina. “I’m not afraid of reporters.”

A few days later, a policeman, Eulalio, approached Celestina on her porch. He shook his finger at her and said: “You can’t build a fence around Martinez´ house because he has to enter and leave. You come down to the police station tomorrow morning.”

Celestina was afraid to go. Rolando went in her stead. Machado, the burly sector chief, told Rolando that his aunt would receive a citation for harassing Martinez. Rolando felt like the victim turned into the culprit. He retorted that it was Martinez who was the illegal and the harasser, and he showed the legal documents to build the fence and for Martinez to abandon the property.

Machado’s tone changed. He replied that this was a civil matter, which was out of his territory. And, yes, Rolando was free to build the fence, if he wished. It was another matter when Rolando arrived with fencing materials and two friends. As they began to dig post holes, Martinez emerged shouting obscenities and threats. This time, Rolando went to the police station for protection and support. Martinez followed. Machado wasn’t in. Another officer spoke to Rolando.

“We know you. We know what you are up to. You are behaving badly and you must desist. If you have any further questions, go to the municipal government office.”

Rolando and Martinez went separately to the Guanabo office where housing specialist Juana Mantero read the documents Rolando handed her.

“There is no interruption of the application to build a fence, because permission is granted legally,” Mantero concluded.

Undaunted by her authority, Martinez yelled: “If that bastard puts up posts, I’ll tear them down.”

Mantero called the police station and informed the officer-on-duty that Rolando was authorized to put up the fence. She even signed a document to that effect, and Rolando returned to the fence project. Martinez arrived with Officer Eulalio.

“You must stop putting up this fence,” the policeman ordered. He refused to look at Rolando’s latest authorization from the housing authority. Rolando mounted his bicycle and rode back to the municipal office where Mantero reaffirmed the order. The determined man returned to his fence work. As he and his friends put up posts, Martinez and three friends gesticulated and guffawed. As if by clockwork, a police car pulled up when the last post was raised, and Martinez´ group yanked the posts out of the wet cement. The police prevented Rolando from reacting and refused to hear about his legal papers. Instead, they ordered him to clean up the cement.

Martinez laughed. That was the end of the fence issue.

The gas issue ended similarly. Rolando and I went to the local gas office where we were directed to the main office in Havana. I identified myself as a journalist. I was told I could not sit in on the matter because, as a journalist, I had to be authorized for any reportage on this concern by DOR—Revolutionary Orientation Department of the Communist Party Central Committee, which oversees access to information and interviews. Although I was accredited by DOR, it could take weeks for each specific story investigation and may not be possible.

A gas company executive, Mariela Frometa, told Rolando: “The gas tanks will remain where they are and in the same name (the owner’s) whether legal or not.”

As it turned out, Martinez had forged Celestina’s name on a gas application for his two tanks. When asked how this could be, Frometa perfunctorily stated that she would offer no further information.

Rolando later convinced the gas company attorney, Ana Calzada, that the gas company could not confiscate gas from the legal owner for use by the illegal occupant. Calzada agreed that the tanks he was illegally using would be moved to where Celestina wanted them.

We were waiting when the gas company truck pulled up days later. Two workers disconnected the lines and were about to move the tanks when Martinez arrived, snorting as usual. He left the workers nervous with his threats as he went looking for his police buddies. Fearing a hassle with police, the workers desisted and wanted to leave. Rolando convinced them to wait for the police to arrive to settle it. The police came and drove all of us to the police station where both sides explained their cases. The watch officer looked at the gas workers´ order to remove the tanks, scratched his head and proclaimed that this was a matter for the gas company and the Popular Power local government. He told Martinez that the police could not intervene for him this time, and that he should take the matter up with the gas company. For the first time Martinez was crestfallen.

The gas workers returned to the house and finished their task. The Díaz family smiled, feeling victorious for the first time.

A few days later, Celestina told us that Martinez had thrown garbage and old furniture on her lawn, and shouted that she’d be sorry. The next day, Celestina peered out her living room window and saw men unloading two gas tanks from an army truck. They placed the cylinders in the small space between her house and the back shack. Soon, Martinez was enjoying the use of gas once again in “new tanks as precious as gold,” Celestina lamented.

Catch-22

The last matter that Rolando and I looked into together was the question of the penalty Martinez was to pay the housing authority for refusing to move. A clerk at the main INV office told us that an order had been issued to withdraw 30% of his paycheck. We went to his work place, a local bus terminal, where an accounting clerk verified that the first withdrawal had been executed the previous payday. Another victory for justice, the Díaz’ exclaimed. But soon it was thwarted as well.

Rolando and I biked to the prosecutor’s office a few days later to hear what he had accomplished.

“The housing authority issued a new resolution annulling its order of 1986 confirming that Martinez must abandon the residency,” he said.

Rolando looked at the prosecutor unbelievingly.

“The INV should have sent your aunt a copy of the resolution, no. 148-86, dated May 30,” the prosecutor said.

“On the other matters,” he continued, “I’ve met with governmental authorities. They say they are investigating. I also spoke with the police department about their conduct concerning the fence. They said they would document their action. We just have to wait now, but it appears that amiguismo (cronyism) motivated their behavior.”

We cycled to the housing office. A clerk showed Rolando the new resolution, which did not explain the reasons for annulling its previous order or for abrogating the court’s decision of 1974.

“As you can see,” the clerk said flatly, “your aunt must now appeal this resolution. Whether Martinez is legal or not is not taken up in this new decision.”

The new resolution, however, does refer to Martinez as “possibly” illegal.

Disenchanted, Rolando explained the new turn of events to his aunt. She decided to hire an attorney to appeal the case. The lawyer she hired a month later told her the appeal would take time, maybe a year.

“In the meantime,” the lawyer had told Celestina, “nothing can be done to prevent Martinez from living where he is or from receiving utilities. I suggest you postpone building the fence and repairing the roof. The police will not look kindly upon such provocations.”

Prosecutor David Corvea Oviedo told us the same thing, and added that due to the temporary finding the housing authority had ceased deducting a fine from Martinez paycheck.

“How can the INV make such a boldface and unexplained reversal,” Rolando asked incredulously, “and why can’t you simply call the Ministry of Justice to intervene?”

The government attorney sighed, and spoke frankly.

“Ah, I wish things were so simple. They should be, but this bureaucracy is slow, cumbersome and sometimes irrational. It loves paperwork. You have to start at the bottom and go through all the channels to arrive at any conclusion. It take years for nearly every case, no matter how simple or obviously just or unjust. As a human being, as a Cuban, and as a prosecutor, I am thoroughly opposed to the way things are done. But that is the way it is. The bureaucracy kills the spirit.”

The Housing Authority Talks Turkey

Rolando left the matter in his aunt’s lawyer’s hands and I continued the sojourn on my own, investigating the housing authority’s purpose and methods of work. Here are excerpts from notes taken over several weeks:

June 19—“Nobody here can give you any data or information without the chief’s authority. He is not in,” an economist told me at the housing economy department.

June 22—“You must have the chief’s authority to look into the process,” a housing attorney told me at the national office. That was Asteria Perdón, and she, of course, was not in. I would also have to have DOR’s approval.

June 23-29—I called Perdón’s office dozens of times without any luck. I tried to have the housing institute’s press officer obtain approval from DOR for my investigation. “No problem,” he said. Two months later there was still no reply. In the interim, I conducted as much of an investigation as I could without permission, without acquiring data or seeing records...and then I gave up.

June 30—Camping out daily now at Perdón’s office, I finally caught her in. She referred me to the press officer, who was not in. With appellant persuasion, she finally granted me a “chat”, not to be construed as an interview. She also took my list of questions, requests for data and facts of cases, and said that a response would be forthcoming, once DOR approved my application.

Perdón presented an overview of the four housing laws adopted during the course of three decades. In 1970, an urban reform law granted rental property to all tenants who had occupied property owned by people who fled the country. Rental payments and taxes were cancelled. The state took no more than 10% of one’s income for rentals or mortgage payments.

The 1985 housing law gave rights of private ownership to renters of state property with authority to sell their property. The state had first right to buy. This law resulted in speculator selling and buying. The following year, a new law closed this profiteering loophole. Then, in 2011, the government backtracked, allowing residency owners the right to sell their properties. The marketing law of supply and demand in housing was reintroduced, the essence of capitalist speculation.

“Housing is our most grave social problem,” Perdón admitted. “We have built as many residences during these revolutionary years as there existed before. But the population has doubled and housing needs grow more than we can meet, especially for younger people wanting their own places. So, we passed another law, which allows for volunteer micro-brigades of workers to build apartments for themselves and for needy cases. Needy cases in Havana comprise about three percent of the inhabitants, who now live in makeshift slums.

“The question of the illegal occupant, perhaps the most thorny of housing conflicts, was modified so that owners can have illegals vacated, but there are many exceptions, as you have encountered.”

Perdón explained that the police are “part of the people”, and are therefore careful not to get involved in domestic housing matters.

“People are not afraid of our police, unlike before the revolution. They are not brutal and they respect people. So the police are reluctant to jeopardize this respect and their reputation.

“State housing authorities are supposed to find the illegals another place to live, but we just don’t have enough locations. Yes, owners´ rights must also be respected, but we simply don’t have the practical solutions just now.”
Coincidental with my investigation, some of the Cuban media published articles concerning illegal occupancy problems. There was no on-the-spot reportage, but columnists researched housing laws and answered readers’ questions about how to proceed. Many cases involved ex-married couples in which one wanted to remove the other from their jointly owned dwelling.

One sweltering humid day, I sauntered into the housing authority’s national legal office and was lucky to be received by its chief lawyer, Marilena Alberto. She did not quibble about DOR approval and was unusually candid.

“The illegal squatter issue is an old one, dating back to the beginning of the revolution when many people had NO place to live. Many simply took the law into their own hands. The revolution wanted all people to have a roof over head. In time, the custom of taking individual action began to be met with legislation, with rationalization based on government and law. Still, there aren’t sufficient housing units, and people often live in all-too-crowded, unhealthy quarters. Our `attention-to-the-population´ office daily handles between 60 and 80 walk-in cases of housing complaints. In addition, we receive between 200 and 400 letters each month with complaints about illegal occupancy. We can order the police to act in extreme circumstances.

“But I ask you how `extreme´ is this case you bring to me?” Alberto looked at me frankly.

“Díaz lives alone and apparently rents out the other unit to beachgoers. I don’t know the case but I surmise that, aside from her personal irritation with this Martinez character, she wants him out so she can exploit the place to earn more money. The state has no interest in assisting such egoistic interests.”

Alberto surmised the same about Martinez´ lack of alternative housing as had others I’d interviewed.

“His case is not urgent. You see, our laws are not only founded on rational legalities. They are also based on concepts of social justice, practical needs and real possibilities. In the Díaz case, she is physically removed from the man. She, or her husband, allowed him to stay there for years before any legal action was taken. Now, Díaz wants the state to bail her out of what, in effect, is a personal matter motivated by profit designs. True, housing authorities did not conduct themselves in an efficient manner. They turned their backs on various infractions Martinez committed. They perhaps acted that way knowing they would have an impossible task if they had to relocate him.

“Once legal codes are more generally accepted and, more importantly, once the state has sufficient resources, then it can address with greater vigor the rights of private ownership. Until then, Celestina will have to tolerate her squatter.”

I felt relieved to encounter a housing official who spoke straightforwardly and to all the issues involved. What continued to disturb me, though, was that so many government officials and workers are not direct, that conflicts of interests are not admitted or dealt with openly, that many citizens do not feel that their government employees feel competent or motivated to make decisions or to act effectively when controversies arise, and that many citizens feel at the mercy of impersonal functionaries, who are not empowered to take effective action.

In the case of Díaz vs. Martinez, state apparatuses should have simply dealt upfront with the problem and, at the very least, forced Martinez to respect Celestina’s rights by making him pay her rent, as well as secure him safe utilities and make him pay to society what he consumes.

I was encouraged, though, that once an individual, albeit a rare and brave one, did take the initiative to pursue a controversial matter that he was able to do so. The authorities, especially the police, were clearly on Martinez´ side but Rolando was not intimidated.

The system, however, makes it nearly impossible for journalists to be true investigative journalists. As an individual, I have met little stonewalling in Cuba, but as a journalist, stonewalling is normal.

Years later I saw Celestina again. She grinned and embraced me.

“Rolando left. He’s living it up up there: the sweet life.”

“Well, he’s up north anyway,” I replied noncommittally, knowing once she got started she’d never stop talking about how great Miami is.

“You know, that son-of-a-bitch is still in my house. He and his good-for-nothing wife. He took her back after she’d played around with another man. And the authorities do nothing. He still enjoys utilities without paying, nor does he offer me any rent,” Celestina said, mournfully.

“Do you still have a lawyer?”

“Oh, you know,” she rubbed her thumb and forefinger together indicating she suspected there’d been a payoff somewhere, “he does nothing, absolutely nothing.”

I decided not to torment her with the reasons I’d learned. Instead, I tried to cheer her up.

“Celestina, it is not all that bad. You have your health, and a beautiful view, this great ocean breeze, a yard and coconuts.”

“Yeah, I’ve got all that, but no tranquility. Say, you want some coconuts?” Celestina laughed robustly as she handed me a short machete with which to open a coconut for its sweet liquid and tasty meat.


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