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Cuba: Evictions Highlight Hurricane Victims' Plight

Officials prevent families from squatting in disused building.
By Calixto Ramón Martínez Árias

Security guards are still posted at a disused school in southeastern Cuba to prevent people made homeless by the 2012 hurricane from moving back into the building more than two months after they were evicted.

When Hurricane Sandy landed last October, it was the worst natural disaster to hit Cuba in half a century, leaving 11 people dead and causing flooding that wrought havoc on agriculture and infrastructure across the eastern end of the country.

Although the government provided hundreds of temporary shelters for people who had to move out of their homes, they have not managed to solve longer-term housing problems. Some families who lost their homes moved in with relatives or neighbours; others squatted in disused state-owned buildings.

In one case, 24 families moved into a polytechnic school in La Alegría, a neighbourhood of the Baracoa municipality in the eastern Guantánamo.

Journalist Luis Manzanet Ortiz said the school stopped functioning “about a year ago”.

“As it was in good shape… these families took it over,” he said.

But in late April, they were evicted. Manzanet Ortiz was present during what he says was a major operation involving municipal housing officials, uniformed police and secret service officers.

“They arrested me to try to stop me covering the eviction,” the journalist said. “They also arrested Eddy Delfino Rodríguez, one of those evicted, for protesting against police violence.”

Delfino Rodríguez himself described what happened, saying, “They evicted us brutally. You should have seen the violence [they] used. They grabbed our property and threw it into trucks without caring whether it broke.”

Delfino Rodríguez was forced to move his family into his brother’s home.

Manzanet Ortiz said he was detained, interrogated and threatened by officials who told him that if he returned to the scene of the eviction, he would be arrested again and fined.

The Cuban authorities fine people they catch photographing or videoing evictions, and confiscate their cameras and mobile phones.

Two security guards have been stationed at the technical school since April to ensure the squatters do not return.

Aside from the housing problems caused by Hurricane Sandy, there are still people waiting for the government to help them with accommodation because of the devastation caused in previous disasters.

“After nearly eight years, I’m getting a house,” said César Arias, a resident of the eastern Granma province who has been forced to live with his wife and two children at his mother’s house ever since Hurricane Dennis, which left 16 people dead in 2005.

The housing crisis was made worse in 2008 when two hurricanes and a tropical storm hit Cuba, destroying more than 500,000 homes and other property.

Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias is a freelance journalist in Cuba.

This story was first published on IWPR’s website.