Sunday, August 09, 2009

Where even the shantytowns look good

David Adams of the St. Petersburg Times reports on the depressing state of the Cuban economy.
A dead rat lies in the middle of the dirt track leading to a cluster of wooden shacks. Young boys — barefoot and shirtless — play a lively game of marbles in the dried mud. It could be a scene from any of the notorious shantytowns that pervade Latin America. But this is Cuba, the self-proclaimed socialist paradise where a revolution 50 years ago promised to eradicate the social inequalities rampant in the Third World.
The hillsides around are dotted with dozens of these ramshackle settlements, known as "llega y pon" (meaning loosely "arrive and build"), which are home to tens of thousands of Cubans. When they began appearing more than a decade ago, the government tried to eradicate them by sending everyone back to their home towns. But they continued to grow, accelerated by Cuba's increasingly dire economic crisis.
It's hard to see how the Cuban state can solve the island's housing problem. More than 500,000 homes were damaged by three devastating hurricanes last year. Of those, some 330,000 homes still need repairs, the Housing Ministry reported last week. That is on top of a backlog of 70,000 unfixed homes from previous storms. Because of drastic budget cuts, the government can only afford to build 32,000 new homes this year, a 32 percent cut from last year.
Adams' report is punctuated by staff photographer John Pendygraft's compelling photographs and video.

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