In Spite of Hurricanes, Easterners Manage to Survive / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 5 October 2016 — Right now, it's easier to get to Miami
than to Santiago de Cuba. To visit the second largest city on the
Island, there are two daily flights that are rarely on time; you have to
take a train for around 20 hours, or buy a bus ticket, a whole adventure
where you get a mix of satire, drama, and, of course, the chance to pay
five or ten convertible pesos under the table as a bribe.
If anyone knows hardship, it's the Cubans who live in the eastern
regions. Living far away from the coasts of Florida, diplomatic
headquarters and media focal points, their first step toward migration
is to escape to Havana.
Havana is a city where, to their misfortune, the Cuban Adjustment Act
doesn't exist. Long before Donald Trump tried to enter the White House,
with his primitive isolationism and huge stupidity, Fidel Castro
advanced a project to build a legal wall: Decree 217, or the Law of
Internal Migratory Regulations, which, since April 22, 1997, restricts
those born in the east of the Island from living in the capital, which
supposedly belongs to all Cubans.
The worst things in Cuba happen to easterners. Regulations, laws to put
the brakes on their internal migration, being exposed to earthquakes,
drought, and, in 2012 to Hurricane Sandy, and now, with the imminent
arrival of Hurricane Matthew, they suffer more devastation caused by
natural phenomena than the central and western provinces.
Their sing-song accents, extended mania for throwing down rum and for
living in subhuman conditions, are the stuff of jokes with racist and
xenophobic overtones made by habaneros, residents of Havana, who call
them palestinos, Palestinians.
If you visit any of a hundred illegal slums set up in the darkness of
night and constructed with recyclable materials in different districts
of Havana, you will see that most of the residents are orientales,
easterners, who are fleeing from poverty in search of better salaries.
Néstor is one of them. For seven years he has lived in a hut made of
poorly arranged bricks with a tile roof, in a foul-smelling and dingy
field that is a stone's throw from the landfill of Calle 100, in
Havana's Marianao district.
He lives from garbage. He earns money by collecting raw material that
has apparently ended its useful life, like shoes, electric appliances
and sports watches, which, after a process of repair, are sold at low
prices in the traveling stalls that are set up in Havana.
"The eastern part of Cuba is at death's door. There's no money or food.
I worked as a custodian in a school and earned 225 Cuban pesos a month —
around eight dollars — and when I went to a shop to buy a pair of shoes,
the price was from 500 to 600 pesos. Havana is dirty, many houses are
held up by a miracle, but you can find money there," says Néstor.
Luis, a santiaguero, resident of Santiago de Cuba, living for 10 years
in Santos Suárez, a neighborhood south of the capital, sells tamales.
While driving his tricycle-trailer, he hawks his hot tamales as soon as
"Not even in the distant past was nature in favor of santiagueros.
Earthquakes, drought, and now we're also threatened by this powerful
hurricane. There people are butting their heads against the wall trying
to invent money. Recreation is dancing reggaeton and drinking homemade
rum. Things in Cuba are bad, but in the east everything is much worse,"
points out Luis.
With the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, thousands of easterners who are
settled in Havana worry about the future of their relatives. "Every
evening I call my mother and brothers, and I pray that the hurricane
won't carry away their little house. We are from San Pedrito — a
neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba — and we have more trouble than a slave
working under the sun. It's pitiful. As soon as they get up, people
start drinking alcohol and gossiping about the neighbors," says Lucila,
a worker in an agro-market in El Cerro.
The disgust of many people from Havana toward easterners is provoked a
little by the myth and by the rude behavior toward the citizens by the
police, composed mainly by natives of those regions*.
"Easterners are known for being informers, bums, and alcoholics. It's
all the same to me if the hurricane goes through Oriente, and if it
does, the orientales can piss off," sneers Octavio, a habanero who kills
time by talking nonsense on street corners.
Carlos, a sociologist, considers that many people have a real problem
with Cubans born in the east. "What bothers habaneros the most is the
terrible treatment by the police – their lack of culture, bad manners
and inferiority complex. Probably they're not pleased that most of the
State officials, headed by Fidel and Raúl, come from the eastern
provinces. There is the false belief that cheap whores and hustlers
arrive by train from the east to create more problems in the capital.
The State, with Decree-Law 217, opened the door to xenophobic feelings
that have always existed below the surface in a segment of the
population born in Havana. I don't think it's a serious problem. But
more attention should be paid to the frankly pejorative attitude towards
easterners," indicates the sociologist.
Like any group of Cubans, Havana is only the first step for the
easterners. The next trip, if they get enough money or are claimed by
their relatives on the other side of the pond, is to land in Miami.
Hispanopost, October 3, 2016.
*Translator's note: Easterners are recruited to be police officers in
Havana with the incentive not only of a steady job but also of the
nearly-impossible-to-obtain permit to live in the capital city.
Translated by Regina Anavy
Source: In Spite of Hurricanes, Easterners Manage to Survive / Iván
García – Translating Cuba -