#CubaDiaries: Havana's Infrastructure Crisis

Image via Marie Claire Archives

Image via Marie Claire Archives

Upon arriving in Cuba, I found out something major: There’s no toilet paper!
 
I’ve read this about places like India, but guess what: that’s so inaccurate, and so rare! It’s pretty much a white lie. So when I read similar things about Cuba, my mind said, “Get a fucking grip. These people have toilet paper.”
 
Guess who was wrong? Me.
 
Compared to second-world and third-world countries, Cuba isn’t developing much (it’s halted to a regulated stop—and I think the government desires to keep it that way).

efore we dive into the basic needs aspect of Cuban society, I want give you a frame of reference:
I want you to keep in mind that my cousins and I got the full experience of Havana—from their version of luxe to roughing it. We wanted to see the way the Cuban people lived, and we’re creatures of comfort. It was an amazing, and beautiful juxtaposition. If and when you go to Cuba, I urge you to do the same. Havana is one of the safest places I have ever seen that is simultaneously so poor. Use that to your advantage: go see and experience all walks of life. Connect with the locals. Their hearts are just as vast as their beautiful minds.

nfrastructure and Access to Clean Water.
Remember the poor infrastructure that Fidel Castro wanted to revamp? Well, it’s still in shambles. Crumbling roads, with limited access to things like clean, bottled water. There is nothing wrong with roughing it, but you do need to be mentally prepared to be on the hunt for essentials like tampons, toilet paper, clean water—you know, all the things we take for granted in the first world.
 
YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE GOING: The average bottled water brand in Cuba tastes like it has been pumped with dust. (Why does no one seem to mention this?)
 
I was sitting in Havana, soaking in Caribbean sunshine and copious amounts of pollution; being a #nastywoman, drinking some #nastywater.
 
Don’t be like me, don’t drink that shit. I’m serious when I say: "I didn’t even want to brush my teeth with it."
 
Be on the lookout for imported water. When you find it, drink it like you won’t see it for days (because you might not).
 

Access to Fresh Food.
There aren't a whole lot of food options to choose from when you’re in Cuba. Food offerings are up to the restaurant owners, and then it’s just Russian roulette from there.
 
The fish tasted like it came from polluted waters, and the veggies were never served fresh (I wonder whyyyyyyyyy... Just kidding, I know why! Restaurants dice up their old, rotting veggies and throw them into colorful cooked dishes to mask the rot).
 
Don't worry though, there is a golden light at the end of the tunnel. Things you will get in abundance include: eggs, oranges, starfruit, and guava! And these things are so good that makes up for the other stuff that's missing (like clean water).
 

Necessities.
From what my overly-observant eyes could see, there are no convenience stores. The closest thing I saw to a convenience store was a large door that opened into a dark room, with one single table of soap, shampoo, and deodorant.
 
Remember: Cuba’s a regulated market; options aren’t really a thing here.
 
Most necessities (including food and fresh water), are sold on the black market, which is an unregulated, not-so-talked about market space, where prices are lower and more affordable. It is illegal to buy and sell things in an unregulated fashion, so this is considered to be a “contraband market.”
 
Most Cuban’s rely on this contraband market for their basic needs because their wages are too low. They simply can’t afford to buy things from the regulated market. When we dive into the financial crises in Part V, you’ll see why they have no financial wiggle room to be picky.

Let’s Talk Business Seizures:

fter the revolution, Cuba became a heavily regulated, socialist state (for the full story on how this happened, read part two of this series). The government seized private businesses, and the economy­—as everyone knew it—was flipped upside down.
 
At the time of the revolution, the Cuban economy was dominated by American Corporations, and corrupt mobsters. There wasn’t much market share left over for local businesses, and the Cuban people (for their own health and wellbeing) needed this to change.
 
For the average person, there was no way of knowing for sure if the ‘golden tomorrow’ promises of the revolutionists would prove to be true. For them, there was no security in tomorrow, and no benefit in being in Cuba today.
 
So, when the socialist policies began to take hold in the country, people began asking themselves, “Is this chaos the ‘better times’the leaders of the revolution promised?”
 
Some citizens decided to be patient; to wait out the transition to see what the new administration had to offer them. And others, well—they fled their way out of their country as fast as they could.
 
They packed up their belongings and “got out of dodge”—migrating out in legal (and sometimes illegal) fashions in hopes for a better life.
 
As we passed through Havana’s Chinatown, my taxi driver shouted over the noise of oncoming traffic, “Havana’s Chinatown is special!It is the only one in the world with no Chinese people in it.”
 
“What happened?!” we asked perplexingly. “Where did they all go?”
 
I mean, seriously, where did they all go?
 
After ignoring us the first few times, our taxi driver realized that we wouldn’t stop asking until he answered. And so, he said: “The Chinese, they were private business owners. After the revolution, they fled Cuba.”
 
We obviously didn’t do our homework before journeying into Havana, and we had to ask (or rather scream over oncoming traffic):
Why?!
 
“The government seized all the businesses. The Chinese fled Cuba, started over for a better life, you see.”
 
Yes, I do see. It looked pretty empty to me.
 
It wasn’t just the Chinese population left the country willingly to retain control over the success of their businesses.
 
Many people who made good incomes knew that a regulation would put them below their existing earning capacity. They wanted to continue to have thriving businesses, and also maintain basic human rights like… owning their own homes

If you don't own your own business, if you don't own your own home—if you don't feel like your efforts are accurately rewarded—then you're bound for crisis because when one piece of the socio-economic puzzle falls, a domino affect goes into play--knocking down all other socio-economic pillars in its path. 

Does that sound scary? Because let me tell you, it is. 

Tune in tomorrow for Part IV on Cuba's Housing Crisis. 

 
Diya SenGupta