War over Swimming Pools in Viñales, Cuba
Fernando Ravsberg, julio 14, 2016
Emilia Diaz was born in the valley of Viñales, in the western Cuban
province of Pinar del Rio. She taught in the literacy campaign when she
was only 12, and then became a teacher, responding to the call of the
Revolution. She has a pile of titles, awards and medals earned
throughout her life.
Emilia lived very humbly until the government authorized her to rent a
room in her house to tourists. Together with her son, they reinvested
everything they earned in expanding and improving the house; today they
have five rental rooms and a restaurant.
Ariel Rodriguez has been a member of the Communist Party for 39 years.
He was a political leader, fought in Angola and chairs the Veteran’s
Association of Viñales. He also has a life full of diplomas and medals
Ariel’s retirement pension didn’t even cover his food for the entire
month, so he teamed up with his daughter and created two small hostels
with a total of five rooms. The new laws allowing self-employment have
allowed them to survive, grow and become prosperous people.
However the provincial government recently withdrew the business
licenses of these two Cubans for the “crime” of building swimming pools
in their hostels. They spent thousands of dollars, and now the
authorities require them to turn them into water storage facilities or
fill them with dirt.
Emilia and Ariel are life-long activists of the Revolution, so they were
convinced that it was all a mistake. They went to the provincial
government and waited 24 hours for attention, sleeping in a park guarded
by a special police brigade.
Closing pools in Viñales appears to be such a strategic policy that they
are using satellite images to detect their location and have created a
grandiose “confrontation team” to counter the action of these
“dangerous” retirees and their families.
Those affected sought an explanation from the Provincial Communist Party
office; they were told to be patient. This scene was repeated in the
National Assembly. They’ve now spent two months without income, going
back and forth like ping pong balls, and they’re not alone. Emilia had
employed 14 workers who are now without a job.
They knocked on all doors but couldn’t find an institution to demand
their rights. “Nobody wants to get burned” with the Party and the
provincial government, not even the national media to whom the
information was sent.
Finally they wrote a letter to Raul Castro himself, describing their
situation. They expect the president to intervene and reopen the case
because they consider it discriminatory, illegal, uneconomical and,
above all, very irrational.
They believe it is a discriminatory policy, because in Viñales and all
over Pinar del Río there are private pools without anyone being
disturbed, some of them without legal permission to engage in economic
activity, so they don’t even pay taxes.
Emilia and Ariel maintain their legality on the basis of a Ministry of
Finance resolution which stipulates the tax payable by the self-employed
for commercial pools in Viñales, a tourist destination vital for
decongesting Havana and Varadero.
Perhaps the Ministry of Tourism needs to explain to the Pinar del Rio
leaders the importance of the 1200 private rooms that are rented in
Viñales, a town where tourists have had to sleep in the park due to the
lack of hotels.
Emilia Diaz tells me that she fills her pool with her own well water and
that there is no drought problem in this province. The two pools that we
saw have a recycling system, which she said allows the same water to be
reused for 2 years.
The Escambray newspaper asks: “If it’s a question of saving water, why
don’t they prohibit all pools, including the inflatable ones sold in the
State shopping centers? And why are these and other accessories
imported, or pool construction authorized, if they’re going to be
Ironically, once the pool is closed the owner is allowed to put up a
plastic one, which in some cases are even larger and use much more water
because it has to be changed every week.
If these entrepreneurs were considered part of the tourism industry,
they wouldn’t close the pools, just as they don’t empty the pools at
hotels and allow the construction of golf courses, which consume more
water than all the pools of Cuba together.
If there’s a drought, we should close all the pools. Why only those
built after a certain date? Why close the pools at hostels and allow
some private pools to operate? Why do some have the right to use water
and others not?
The official we spoke to at the Provincial Communist Party office said
that the subject is a matter for the People’s Power Assemblies, but the
President of the Provincial Assembly never returned our calls. Too many
inconsistencies and secrets – something smells bad and it’s not the pool
Source: War over Swimming Pools in Viñales, Cuba | Cartas Desde Cuba por
Fernando Ravsberg –