“In line, one by one and slowly!” A security employee at the Regla pier, Havana, yelled to the passengers who had just arrived in the small boat and had to cross a short bridge to reach land. The metal structure is so rusty and full of holes that it is dangerous to overload it.
Very close to the gangplank, a man waist deep in the black waters of the bay was scratching through the mud for small crustaceans, perhaps to use as fishing bait or to prepare a lunch. With each step the travelers took on the bridge, a creak was heard and the man cocked his head, as if anticipating the collapse.
The deterioration of the bridge is just one of the many points that, in recent years, has made transit between the Cuban capital and the town of Regla difficult. The boat also shows the signs of the passage of time and a lack of maintenance, in addition to having only one departure per hour, due to the fuel crisis that the country is going through.
“Sir!” Shouted the employee, upset when she realized that a passenger tried to overtake another by taking the right path of the bridge. “You can’t do that,” added the woman, who said she was tired of the same thing “every day.”
“Sir!” Shouted the employee, upset when she realized that a passenger tried to overtake another by taking the right path of the bridge. “You can’t do that,” added the woman, who said she was tired of the same thing “every day.” When the boat finished emptying, the scene was repeated, but this time with the boarding of the new customers who would disembark on the other side, in Old Havana.
A few meters from the damaged pier, this Friday morning a dozen Reglanos waved flags and shouted slogans at the May Day events, postponed last Monday due to weather conditions. The concentration took place in front of his beautiful church and dissolved a while later without penalty or glory.
In the nearby park, a group of people were waiting for a bus and an old man told about “the piñacera that was assembled in the bus”, an increasingly common scene given that tempers are very heated due to the lack of transportation. “That was tremendous, even the driver took blows,” added the man who staged part of what happened with his hands.
Without the official act and the hubbub of the bus stop, Regla looked this morning like a paralyzed town, without the tourists that used to abound in its streets or the avalanche of believers who visited its church to venerate the patron saint of the town and of the bay, which in Santeria is equivalent to the orisha Yemaya.
The panorama was also quite different from the agitation that existed in the surroundings of the Havana bay three decades ago. Right at the pier, from where the boat departs to reach Regla, the social outbreak of August 5, 1994 began, known as the Maleconazo.
In a year when the Cubans had hit rock bottom with the rigors of the Special Period, several attempts to hijack that boat raised the hopes of hundreds of people to “leave on the next little boat for Miami.” With that illusion, they gathered around the pier to try to board the boat and leave a country where even a piece of bread had become a luxury.
When the Police canceled the departures of the boat and closed the pier, popular indignation poured out onto the Malecón avenue, breaking shop windows, overturning garbage containers and shouting anti-government slogans. In its then three decades in power, the regime had never experienced such questioning on the very streets of the capital.
In addition to the strong repressive response ordered by Fidel Castro, in August 1994 the opening of the borders was decreed and more than 35,000 Cubans threw themselves into the sea in precarious boats. It was the so-called Crisis of the Rafters.
After the social protest, the Cuban regime militarized both piers and established strict security protocols on the docks on both shores to prevent the kidnapping of the little boat. But with time and the lack of maintenance, the control measures have been relaxed and the structures of the jetty have been filled with rust.
A rotten bridge, a few passengers who need to cross the bay and a boat that only leaves every hour is what is left. The scarcity of fuel and neglect have done their part, but it has been the stagnation of Regla, its few options and its depressed trade, which has given mobility the punch.
There is only one boat left to make the journey, every hour. The trip, although fast, gives an opportunity to contemplate the new element in the city’s skyline, the Turkish floating plant moored in the port of Havana, expelling polluting fumes.
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