Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

Squatters Take Over State Land in Cuba

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Author Osniel Carmona Breijo
Publication Date 5 April 2013
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Squatters Take Over State Land in Cuba, 5 April 2013, available at: [accessed 21 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

They hope that after initial warnings, the authorities will relent and give them the land.

Homeless families seized an area of unused land in Cuba's Mayabeque province last month, saying they had no other option.

Most of the squatters had moved into Mayabeque, a province near the capital Havana, from regions in eastern Cuba. Some were driven out by the destruction that Hurricane Sandy caused in the east in October, while others are just looking for work.

Squatting is not uncommon in Cuba, and is partly a consequence of migratory trends focused on the capital Havana, where people hope to find work and opportunity. The government often ends up recognising shantytowns like Moliné and El Gavilán, in the city's Arroyo Naranjo and Boyeros municipalities, respectively.

Staying with relatives or in shelters used by farmworkers, the migrants found an area of unused state-owned land in Mayabeque's El Sopapo neighbourhood, covered in weeds and rubbish.

Local resident Miguel Lomba described how two families marked out plots of about 15 square metres each, and were followed by more, all using branches to fence off areas identical in size. By March 13, just 48 hours later, 25 plots had been laid out, each with a sign bearing the name of its "owner".

Setting up an informal residents' association, the squatters agreed that everyone would clean up their own plot in preparation for building a home on it.

One of the squatters, Yaudie Cancio, said they made their move after finding out that a local government official had assigned land to someone to start a private business.

"How can they give land to people who have homes so that they can start businesses, when we don't have a roof over our children's heads and we have to live with our relatives?" she asked.

The squatters fully expect the authorities to move against them, but then they are hoping for leniency as in previous cases, officials have first imposed fines and later given the occupants legal rights to remain.

Squatter Evelio Iglesias says three officers from Batabanó municipality have already visited the area and spoken to occupants. Now the authorities are threatening to close the site down, but Iglesias does not believe that will be final.

"They said they'd send inspectors along to scare us at the end of this month," Iglesias said. "They can go ahead - we aren't afraid. It might work in our favour."

Past practice has been for inspectors to impose an initial fine of 500 pesos - about 20 US dollars. On their second visit, the fine is 100 pesos. Once this formal procedure is out of the way, the process of legalisation can begin.

"First we're going to put up a palm roof because it's very likely they will come and knock down whatever we build," said Cancio, who appeared as unperturbed as Iglesias. "Once the situation has been sorted out, then we'll see whether we can make a comfortable home, bit by bit, over a period of time."

Established residents like Lomba are none too happy.

"This is crazy," he said. "They come with axes and pickaxes, cut down a few trees and stick them in the ground to mark out their territory. Then they say that it's theirs now and that no one can remove them. There are more and more of them every day."

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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