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'First they arrested the men, then they came and demolished everything'

The Cuban government destroyed the substandard homes of more than 200 families in Guantánamo, and failed to honor its promise to give them land.


On the morning of February 6 authorities in Guantánamo demolished more than 200 substandard homes in the Venceremos 2 community known as La Fabela, located northwest of the province's capital. They took previous precautions: they arrested many of the men residing there, according to witnesses. Afterwards, they promised residents that they would be given land.

Two months later, those affected are still waiting. Without homes, they feel cheated and mistreated.

"That day I went to tell a friend that I couldn't sell any ice cream because we had already seen several policemen come to evict us, and they had the entire area surrounded. Whoever left could not go back, and that's why many people lost things," said Yunior Roque, a young self-employed worker. "They came with bulldozers. It was quite a sight."

"Some managed to recover things because they asked the authorities for permission, and they let them get what they could. The authorities lent them a truck to take the stuff. We all got a fine, but we do not know if we really have to pay it. People are disappointed. Everyone asked why they waited so many months, as people settled down, and then showed up to knock it all down," added Roque.

"I was at my mother's house and when I returned there, and I saw them destroying my house. I asked them if they could let me in, but they wouldn't," said Rosanelvis Romero Cuello, 20, pregnant and a mother of two.

"The children said they didn't want to go to school because they were going to demolish their houses while they were away. There were people with disabilities, mentally retarded children, but they didn't believe it," Romero complained.

"During the eight months that I was living there they hit us with a fine of 2,500 pesos (national currency), which I did not pay, but many people did. This house where I am now belongs to my grandmother, and there are 10 people living there. I am cramped, without any privacy."

Romero Cuello said that the authorities "first arrested the men, and then took advantage to take things from the women."

"The day before the eviction, the men of the community were arrested for crimes like theft, slaughtering cattle, and breaking and entering, among others, which did not make any sense," reported Yasneika Columbié Blanco.

"The next day (that of the demolition operation) they summoned most of the people to Physical Planning and, when they arrived at the office, they were destroying the neighborhood," he added.

"My children had already left for school and these police officers showed up with dogs and shotguns. All of us were fined," he complained.

"They put me in jail four days before, they told me, for theft and killing horses," Raul Laffita said. "I told them that that was impossible because I had not been able to walk for eight months, but they said that I had participated in the killing of a horse."

"They released me without charges five days later and, by the time I got there, they had demolished it. In that neighborhood they arrested some six men for the same crime," he said.

"All the people who were there went to vote in the 'elections' because they were told that this was not a political problem, but one at Housing. We had set up a CDR, well organized, and there was a bust of Martí that, incidentally, they took from us," said Laffita.

"This reminds me of what my father used to tell me, and what I saw on television: the same thing that dictators like Batista did, who took people out of their houses and burned everything, even their furniture. All that was left was for them to torch everything there. I am under threat: if I do something, they say that they’ll put me in jail. They say they’re watching me," he concluded.

Yasneika Columbié Blanco insisted that the authorities "gave them hope that they would receive some legal property. Now we're living in my grandmother's house, which only has two rooms and I am just the granddaughter, that is, the third wheel," she complained.

Keiler García also heard the promise about the land. But, "in the end, nothing at all. I’m an orphan, so I was in a Casa de la Patria (orphanage). Once I grew up, I had to leave. I built a house there, and now look."

"I lived for eight months in that neighborhood, and from the beginning they warned us that we had to leave because houses could not be built on that land," said Silvia Sánchez Díaz, who has a son and is currently pregnant. "We decided to risk it, living there out of necessity. I went to the Housing Office to request a piece of land, but they told me that they didn't have anything."

The interviewees said they felt misled by the Government.

"We've gone to Housing a few times for the land they promised us, but they don't tell us anything. We were deceived by the Government," said the young Rosanelvis Romero Cuello.

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