504 years after its founding, Havana has become a ghost of what it once was

On November 16, Cuba’s once beautiful and prosperous capital turned 504. Unfortunately, the city has deteriorated to the point that all that is left is memories of its greatness. After decades of communist corruption and criminal neglect, Havana is now a city where the only thing that remains is the ghost of what was and what could’ve been.

Jorge Angel Perez writes in CubaNet (my translation):

Havana is a ghost city

Havana is a cemetery, without the tranquility of a cemetery, with the distress of a life in a nefarious country.

There are ghost cities, cities that only live in memories, in imagination, in pain. Some cities ceased to be cities and had no choice but to live in the memory of the past. There are forgotten cities and dead cities; there exist cities of remembrance, those that aren’t even a shadow of what they once were; cities that exist only in recollections and dreams, in fervent nostalgia. There exists Havana… Does it exist?

There are cities of memories, there are sorrowful cities of memories. There exists a city of memories called Havana, a Havana that is still young compared to other ancient cities, and yet it seems old, dying, and lives only through memories. There exists a Havana of remembrance and dreams, a Havana that no longer exists, existing solely in the minds of its admirers. There is a Havana that leads us to think of a landscape after battle, a city resembling those inhabited by ghosts.

There exists a torn and sad Havana that has lost its color and best aromas, its good and merciful airs. I am witnessing a Havana I never imagined, an unpleasant Havana, crude and aimless. There exists a rude and rustic Havana. There exists a Havana becoming increasingly sad and filled with solitude and distress. There exists a sorrowful and introverted Havana.

I am looking at a Havana that is sad and, above all, lonely, hiding away, not wanting to be visible; a city without music, without joys, without revelries or jubilation, without uproars. The Havana we see now is one of empty streets and multiple sorrows. Today’s Havana is a ghost town, full of darkness. Havana is a starved city and, above all, filthy and unsociable. The current Havana is a series of misfortunes.

I have walked Havana’s streets and seen it lonely, observed it empty, almost evacuated. I’ve walked through Havana in its death throes, in its struggles. Havana is now a ghost, a city of sustenance, instabilities, and hunger. To the extent that the inhabitants of Havana no longer wish to show themselves, not wanting to step out onto the streets, not wanting to expose themselves to that mortuary loneliness that confirms the city’s pains. Havana is a city that stays indoors, a city that hides, dying alone and hidden.

Havana seems to seek survival and seems to find “not death.” Havana has been frightened, hidden away in the darkest corners of its homes. Havana is terrified and, above all, paralyzed. I have seen a city dying in its muteness, in its nervous spasms. I have witnessed the silence of Prado Street, its emptiness. I have examined those sorrowful people who still wander hopelessly through the city, moving clumsily, barely moving.

Havana is empty. Havana has the appearance of death. Havana is in a decline, the last stages, the most perfect appearance of the end. Havana is a specter, a dead city, the desolation of its inhabitants. Havana makes me think of Chernobyl; it increasingly resembles that city, even younger, which fell ill, and today is merely an uninhabited concrete mass.

Havana is a dead, desolate city, much like Chernobyl after the disaster. Havana is a city akin to emptiness, to the insubstantial. Havana is an ill city hiding in its collapse, in its multiple falls. Havana, the Habaneros, they seclude themselves, they protect themselves. Why go out? Why traverse a city that only displays its death throes?

Havana might, eerily, be much larger than that city the Chinese swiftly built to house those who would produce coal, and then housed very few, almost no one. China built Ordos Kangbashi to accommodate coal miners, but it only embodied emptiness, solitude. Ordos Kangbashi is an empty city, and so is Havana.

The Soviet Union and China built cities that turned ghostly, but Cuba couldn’t even manage that, or perhaps it did if we think about the Nuclear City of Juragua, a now ghostly city that wanted to be nuclear, but God protected us from the disasters that might have occurred. Thankfully, today it is just a ghost, a communist yearning.

And Havana, the city that was so beautiful, the one that still astonishes some, appears sad, mournful. That youngster of a little over 500 years insists on showing its death throes, and its inhabitants avoid acknowledging the disaster, hiding away. The bustling city hides; it hides the sadness, the despair. The lively and joyous Havana no longer exists.

The city, its citizens, hide from disaster, avoid looking at their calamities and the calamitous people who inhabit it. Havana is merely a city of memories. Havana, its people, hide and highlight the emptiness of the dying city. People in Havana take refuge in the caves that are their homes. Habaneros, maybe all Cubans, hide to avoid confronting the disaster.

Cubans, in their cities, hide to find some tranquility and patience. Habaneros, the majority of Cubans, have chosen the “tranquility” of their homes to await the advancement of the disaster and perhaps death. Cubans, like dogs, huddle in corners to endure pain and the arrival of death without being noticed. Death is perhaps the most intimate act of life, and maybe that’s why Havana abandons the streets and seeks safety in corners, like dogs.

Confinement is undoubtedly a representation of death. The house is a representation of the tomb, the city is a representation of the cemetery, although it would be better to call it a graveyard. Havana is a cemetery, without the tranquility of a cemetery, with the distress of a life in a nefarious country. Havana is emptiness; the ‘wonderful city’ is a graveyard.

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