THE BLOG

Eastern Cubans Are 'Palestinians' in Their Own Capital

03/25/2014 03:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2014
  • Yoani Sanchez Publisher of 14ymedio, independent newspaper in Cuba

Photo: Silvia Corbelle

She left Banes on a hot and dusty morning. In a bag, some underwear and the address of relatives in Havana. When the train got to Central Station, Cosita took a deep breath and filled her lungs with that aroma of burnt oil typical of the capital. "I'm on the roof*," she said to herself, with a feeling of victory. Six months had passed and she was returning to the city with a record of a police warning and a piece of a washing machine boarding the train with her.

Cosita settled into her cousin's room and started to collect plastic bottles and pieces of nylon from the nearest trash cans. With these she made artificial flowers, which she sold in order to eat and to "give something" to her Havana relatives. She asked around the neighborhood looking for single men -- older ones -- to whom she could offer herself as a "cleaning lady, who can do everything around the house," but didn't find any takers. She knew her days were numbered until the police would stop her in the street and discover she was an illegal. One more "Palestinian," as many capital residents disrespectfully call people from the east of the country.

They caught her one gray and rainy afternoon, while she was selling flowers outside the farmers market. They imposed a fine, for illicit economic activity, and warned her that she had 72 hours to get out of the city. But Cosita couldn't leave yet. She'd managed to acquire half of an Aurika washing machine, and didn't have any way to transport it. A neighbor had also given her an old child's wardrobe, without doors or drawers. These were all the material possessions she'd acquired on her Havana adventure and she wasn't going to leave them behind.

The truck drivers wanted too much to transport her "treasures" to Banes. She could no longer sell her nylon decorations and the relatives who had welcomed her feared a new fine for having an illegal in their home. Cosita left, on a cold December night, with her piece of a washing machine and her bag as empty as when she had arrived. The wardrobe was abandoned in a hallway and someone used the boards to cover up a window where the rain was coming in. The clothes rod replaced a broken broom and the nails were reused in a chair.

Cosita, in Banes, dreams of returning to Havana. She tells her friends stories of her days in "the capital of all Cubans" and dreams of that "children's furniture, of good wood," that someday she might manage to bring -- as a trophy -- to her village.

*"La placa" [in the original Spanish] is one of the popular ways to refer to Havana.

Translator's note: "Cosita" literally means "a little thing."


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