By Desmond Boylan
People in Havana refer to migrant workers from eastern Cuba as “Palestinians.” They arrive in Havana and its outskirts to work and make an honest living, and stay. Many of them have no choice but to secretively build a home in the bush to settle into.
I watched and documented one of these constructions from the ground up and learned many things I had no idea about. I saw the use of several extremely simple but efficient building techniques dating back centuries, and met some very interesting people for whom I now feel great admiration.
The story began with Edelio Suarez, a migrant from the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. Edelio, a strongly-built migrant laborer, said jokingly about the nickname put on him in Havana, “Fidel Castro and Raul Castro were the first ‘Palestinians’ to move to Havana in 1959, so why shouldn’t we?”
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his brother, President Raul Castro, are from the village of Biran in the Eastern province of Holguin. In 1959 they moved in on Havana at the end of combat in the final phases of the Cuban Revolution. Thousands of migrants have since moved from east to west, working and establishing themselves in and around Havana.
Restrictions on people’s movements in Cuba until last year made it very difficult for migrants to move freely around the country. They still can be sent back to their province of origin if stopped by the police, especially if they cannot prove they have a job. Raul Castro has relaxed those rules so migrants can move more freely now if they have relatives already in or around the capital, but they still they must seek jobs and work within the law.