"We Had the Bitter Experience of Lamenting the Loss of a Child": Housing and Everyday Life in Camagüey, Cuba, 197680

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:30 PM
Salon 3 (Palmer House Hilton)
William Thomas Kelly IV, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Following the triumph of Fidel Castro’s forces in 1959, the Cuban government rapidly enacted a radical social program to ameliorate the material suffering of millions of Cubans, a centerpiece of which was an ambitious project to eliminate Cuba’s crippling housing shortage. In the years that followed, housing policy became a primary point of contact between Cubans and their government, and one of the most significant manifestations of state power in people’s daily lives. This paper will discuss how residents of Camagüey, Cuba’s third-largest city, worked within and outside state-crafted legal structures to navigate the city’s housing crisis following the enactment of Cuba’s first socialist constitution in 1976. Camagüey in this moment was an industrializing city with an exploding population housed in large part in dilapidated colonial-era buildings that collapsed with alarming frequency, at times resulting in fatalities. Faced with minimal government action in the face of this crisis, many fled to the periphery of the city and constructed informal settlements, placing themselves at the mercy of city demolition crews, while others sought recourse through established channels. This paper will examine the multitude of adaptive strategies city residents developed to procure adequate housing in an environment in which home sales were illegal, construction materials were tightly controlled and generally unavailable, and little new housing was built. It will also explore how migration, particularly in the wake of the 1980 Mariel boatlift, helped mitigate the housing crisis by allowing for the redistribution of émigré property to those most in need, an opportunity which the municipal government exploited for political benefit. In examining these things, this paper will illuminate the nature of ordinary Cubans’ daily lives during what is considered the Revolution’s “golden era,” and will shed light on a crucial aspect of the social compact between the revolutionary state and its citizenry.
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