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Dumpsters Into Clothespins: The Economy of Desperation

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Photo: A "homemade" clothespin on my balcony. Yoani Sanchez

On the ground, turned over, and with a huge hole in the bottom, lies the dumpster on the corner. It was put there just months ago, with its bulky gray body ready to swallow the garbage. But it didn't resist. Vandalism, coupled with the poor quality of its material, have left it in an almost unusable state. One street farther down another ran into worse luck and disappeared, later being found near the Tulipan station. Two others, with their wheels ripped off and their lids missing, rest a few yards from the train line. According to an official from the Community Corporation, "as many as 50 dumpsters in one day" have been stolen. At night you see them full -- with their stink, flies and feral cats -- and in the morning they're not there, all that's left are the contents dumped in the street.

There are many ways to measure the physical state of a nation and one of them is listing what people loot from public spaces. I remember when, in the early nineties, we had to guard the light bulbs in the hallways and elevators, almost as if they were gold bars hanging from the ceiling. Pillaging has increasingly become a form of public protest in a gesture that combines predation and social retaliation against a State that has been -- for too long -- the omni-proprietor. Those raised by parents who lived by diverting resources from their workplaces, rarely hesitate to plunder. Rather, they become adults versed in "express theft," in crimes born of both maliciousness and desperate need.

The dumpster's wheels will make their way to the cart that brings waters to neighborhoods where the supply is unreliable. The plastic structure travels a longer route, it is melted down and turned into clothes pins, funnels to transfer fuel, or into orange juicers. In the absence of a wholesale market where raw materials can be bought, any object in the public street can end up transformed into a product to be sold. Not a trace is left, barely a few streaks of gray in a scrub brush recall the dumpster that had been on the other corner.

Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.
Translating Cuba is a compilation blog with Yoani and other Cuban bloggers in English.
Yoani's new book in English, Havana Real, can be ordered here.