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    Easterners in Havana: An Exodus Hushed Up by the Cuban Regime / Ivan Garcia
    Posted on June 15, 2015

    Ivan Garcia, 30 May 2015 — One hot and boring night, drinking a
    tear-inducing moonshine, Yosvany and a group of friends in a remote
    sugar-workers’ town in Yateras, Guantanamo province, more than a 600
    miles east of Havana, made plans to relocate to the capital to try to
    change their future.

    “The village where we lived isn’t even on the map. It’s in a mountainous
    region and there the routine for most young people is drinking alcohol,
    breaking horses, and going to bed early. The school dropout rate is high
    and many girls as young as 14 or 15 are already mothers. This hamlet is
    the closest thing to hell,” says Yosvany, seated on his bicycle-taxi.

    Two days later, Yosvany and his partners took a train to the capital.
    After 22 hours of travel, including police checkpoints where they were
    searched for cheese, coffee or marijuana, they arrived at the supposed
    El Dorado.

    “I had only seen Havana on television. I’d never seen so many cars or
    tall buildings, like the FOCSA or the Habana Libre hotel. The first
    pictures I sent my parents were in front of the El Capitolio, like all
    the peasants, and drinking beer from a can in a Havana bar. It’s true
    that the city is grimy and dilapidated, but compared to the eastern
    provinces, it’s Miami,” he says.

    Like Yosvany, there are hundreds of easterners in Havana. In an
    unfriendly euphemism of official jargon, they are labeled a “floating
    population.” According to the last National Census of Population and
    Housing, half a million fellow citizens live in the city in true legal
    limbo.

    Since 1997 a shameful Legislative Decree (number 217) has been in place
    that prohibits anyone not born in the capital from settling in it.
    Apartheid in its purest form.

    While the campaigns of Cuban dissidents pound away against the arbitrary
    excesses of power, the repression of those who think differently, and
    the flagrant violations of political rights, this infamous legislation
    gets a pass.

    An example. The spurious Law 88, which imposes a 20-year prison term on
    dissident journalists or human rights activists, remains on the books,
    but is not enforced. Quite the opposite occurs with Legislative Decree 217.

    If you walk around in the shanty towns on the outskirts of Havana,
    crowded with filthy hovels made of aluminum and cardboard, without
    electricity or sanitation, you can find out what it means to live being
    hounded by a law.

    These families live in no man’s land, in an undefined status. For them
    bureaucratic records do not exist. They are not listed in the Civil
    Registry or in the OFICODA, the organization that implements the
    rationing of housing.

    14 years ago, Magda came from Mayari, in Granma province, 500 miles from
    the capital. Her life is comparable to that of a gypsy. “My three
    children are illegals at school. I’m in the paperwork to legalize a room
    I built in San Miguel del Padron. We don’t have a ration book to buy the
    official basic food basket and we can’t get work because we’re
    undocumented.”

    Thanks to the underground economy, Magda earns money that she couldn’t
    even dream of in her province. “My husband collects money for the
    ’bolita’ (illegal lottery), and together with some friends we put on a
    cockfight every weekend. Every month that business earns you good money.
    I sell what shows up, from ground-peanut bars to bath sponges.
    Easterners are fighters by nature. We do jobs that Havanans avoid.”

    Police harassment of the illegal Easterners is constant. In the
    overcrowded neighborhoods of Old Havana, police officers dressed in
    black with German shepherds are on the lookout.

    “They look like Nazis. They’ve sent me back to Santiago three times. But
    I managed to return. There it’s really hard. The “empty pockets” and the
    people don’t have the means to thrive. In the capital opportunity
    abounds. There are lots of under-the-table businesses,” says Ernesto, an
    industrial technician who spent six years living illegally in Havana.

    According to Ernesto, the police are the most dangerous. “Almost all of
    them are Easterners, but they won’t leave their fellow countrymen alone.
    But because there’s so much corruption, you can take care of it with
    money. The other problem is that many Havanans see us as intruders,
    saying we’ve come to take their jobs. They call us ’Palestinians’ and
    have given us a reputation as drunks and snitches.”

    One afternoon in 2009, Ernesto decided to burn all his bridges. He sold
    his house in the Chicharrones slum in Santiago de Cuba, and put up a
    covered corral on the outskirts of Havana where he breeds more than 50 pigs.

    “I make my living selling pigs. I fatten them with feed bought in state
    warehouses and scraps that are available from school cafeterias. The
    headache is the police, who will not let you live. To be a paperless
    easterner in Havana is to live in constant fear. Apparently Fidel and
    Raul don’t remember that they are easterners too,” he says.

    In every municipality of Havana, illegal eastern refugees survive
    underground. However they can. Driving a bicycle taxi, raising pigs, or
    prostituting themselves. Always on the razor’s edge.

    Iván García

    Photo: Havana Train Terminal, arrival point for most Cubans arriving
    from the eastern provinces. Despite the existence of a decree-law
    prohibiting it, they are moving to the capital in search of a better
    future for themselves and their families. Taken from the blog La Santanilla.

    Source: Easterners in Havana: An Exodus Hushed Up by the Cuban Regime /
    Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba –
    http://translatingcuba.com/easterners-in-havana-an-exodus-hushed-up-by-the-cuban-regime-ivan-garcia/

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