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The Cuban Collapse a photo essay

Cubans face a precarious present and an uncertain future. While the government focuses on the recovery of the tourism sector, people’s living conditions are driving the largest migratory exodus in the country’s history.

Inflation, the economic blockade and mismanagement mean many are unable to meet their basic needs.

The main focus of this project is to document the dismal housing situation in Old Havana, a reflection of the country’s wider collapse. Some sources suggest the government allows buildings to collapse in order to be able to buy them cheaply and convert them into tourism infrastructure.

Those who have lost their homes, mostly women and children, live in shelters, squat or try to repair their homes on the black market, the only place where they can find materials, even though they are overpriced.

The voices in this report reveal a reality that differs from the image of a Caribbean paradise, of life in dilapidated buildings among rats, bedbugs, cockroaches and damp, with suffering continuous power and water cuts and only very limited purchasing power.

Forty people who have lost their homes living in the La Coubre shelter. They throw their rubbish out of their windows because it’s difficult for them to feel the place as their own.

Neither Sally nor Niovis work. They have a special card for food but it has been suspended and Sally is showing signs of malnutrition. The sisters lived in a collapsed building at 317 Muralla Street. They were told they would be there for four months, but that was five years ago.

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The authorities told them they would repair their house, but they did not and it eventually collapsed. Niovis says this is very common in Havana, especially after the hurricane season between June and October. Luckily, the girls were out when it happened.

Jani’s biggest problems are her family’s overcrowded shelter and the presence of cockroaches, rats and damp. When Leyanis was pregnant, a cockroach got into her ear while she was sleeping and she required medical attention.

The government provided bunk beds for the six people in the family, but the mattresses are infested with fleas. The family spends entire days without safe drinking water and the children have serious difficulties focusing on their studies. When they came to the shelter to avoid the imminent collapse of their former home, Leyanis was a child. Now she is a mother.

The shared toilets are a source of tension. They don’t have running water so extra care has to be taken with cleanliness, and that generates arguments between neighbours.

Judit has built her own bath to get more privacy, which is hard to find in these overcrowded places. She was being abused by her ex-partner and ran away as soon as she regained her strength. She spent almost four years renting, but she could not support herself and her two children on her account’s salary. She feels the only option she has to live decently is to leave the country, following the fate of millions of Cubans.

Marlene, 50, says her experience in the shelter may affect them for the rest of their lives. Her daughter, Keyla María, is traumatised, like so many other children living here. Marlene’s mother had lung cancer and in the shelter’s living conditions her health deteriorated drastically. ‘‘She lived badly, with suffering, with agony, and I begged that she could live the remaining months of her life in dignity, but it did not happen.’’