Cuba: A Lot of Noise, Not Enough Respect

November 7, 2017 |

By Alexander Londres

Photo: Angenita Jansen

HAVANA TIMES — The issue of noise in Cuba has been one of the most popular and repetitive on a daily basis, for a while now. Not precisely because of the science fiction saga where US diplomats have been affected by sonic weapons and left with hearing loss, but because of contemporary Cuban life’s new ways and commotion.

Different media platforms have made echo of its effects and are dealing with this subject from an environmental pollution standpoint (something which was never done up until a few years ago), taking into account the fact that experts classify it as the fourth pollution agent after water pollution, air pollution and solid waste pollution.

Resizing an old problem, which concerns everyone because it affects all of us in one way or another: in neighborhoods, on the street, in workplaces, the majority of us are prone to becoming victims of noise. However, even though it is important to talk about this subject (especially from an educational standpoint), talking and talking about it isn’t enough.

Being Cuban = Loud Noise?

There are some people who have even justified high levels of noise pollution in the environment and at home in Cuba with the cliche of the easy-going and cheerful Cuban that our government media disseminates. Those who are more inclined to make a racket use this as an excuse so they can continue “to make noise” under the protection of a deeply-rooted belief that being Cuban and making a scandalous racket are the same thing. A half-truth that has been wrongly generalized, which is not supported by the many Cubans who have nothing to do with this racket, nor do they take on this joyful persona when this comes into conflict with being polite and adhering to good manners and healthy co-living practices.

Nevertheless, it’s very common to find the “constantly happy” rowdy bunch in our neighborhood, who without taking into account their neighbor’s right to enjoy their time in peace, to co-exist without the bother of unwanted noise, unleash their questionable music taste and excess noise, while they trample all over other people’s peace and quiet and overwhelm their ears (as well as their own) in an absolute display of no respect for somebody else’s acoustic space.

Photo Angenita Jansen

In order to dissuade these individuals from their shouting and privately public concerts, it’s normally not enough to let them know about the harm they are causing to people’s health with continuous exposure to high sound volumes, nor that the World Health Organization (WHO) standards recommend a maximum of up to 65 decibels during the day and 55 at night. Nor that there are legal measures that can be applied against people who make noise.

Trying to give them a taste of their own medicine, making them suffer the sharp whistle noise that announces the arrival of the breadseller at 4:50 AM; the most annoying announcements; a car beeping insistently in your ear at all times of day; the neighbor shouting out for her son “Ismaeeeeeeeeeeel!”; women who wake up at the crack of dawn and give their “news updates” at the top of their lungs; the concert of 50 reggaeton tracks one after the other, that makes shared walls vibrate during the morning of the only day you have off… Would any of this make the unconcerned see sense?

With their music everywhere

In the past, on public transport, for example, the problem used to be just with drivers who used to put loud music on their vehicle’s loudspeakers. Today, as well as that old problem, there is also the proliferation of “traveling Djs”, who force people nearby to listen to their music at high decibels (with the power of their portable devices increasing as the days go by) in open spaces – and even closed spaces – which are public (sometimes even in health institutions).

A few days ago, with one of these individuals carrying a speaker in plain sight, somebody remarked that it was like a kind of return to those decades in the past, when it was very common to see people walk down the street holding a boombox on their shoulder. However, the nostalgic tone of the moment disappeared as the character came closer, forcing his annoying “hit of the moment” that was blasting on those of us who were within the speaker’s radius.

Unfortunately, this is no longer an isolated incident but rather an invasive act that is becoming widespread, especially among the youngest Cubans, but also among a good number of older people, who assume that everybody likes to listen to the same kind of music, or loves the same songs and artists  that show business and/or the Weekly audio-visual Package make fashionable.

It’s one thing to decide to go to a club or cultural center and listen to loud music for hours, knowing the harmful effects of noise, because you like what’s playing. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to be sitting practically anywhere and be violated “acoustically” by unwanted noise.

Cover your ears?

A report presented to the National Assembly of People’s Power in 2016 only makes a quick reference to the issue, referring to the “population’s social indiscipline in their homes, cars, bici-taxis, etc. and what happens because of the lack of demands of managers and higher levels of management at some recreational facilities. Some independent work activities also influence this problem such as sheetmetal workers, carpenters, tire repair workers, etc.”

Alamar housing projects.  Photo: Irina Echarry

Luis Felipe Sexto, an expert on this subject, claims that updating the exisiting laws would be wise so as to be in keeping with international practices and current Cuban reality, taking into account the fact that the intense changes that the Cuban socio-economic landscape has suffered after the approval of some of these regulations still in force, have imposed variations in the sound environment too.

Walking through any of our busier neighborhoods would be enough to verify just how much this epidemic, a distortion of the word “party”, has spread, the impunity of rackets in urban acoustic spaces, at any time and anywhere, at the expense of collective wellbeing; circumstances which, if added to the characteristic sounds of economic and social progress, convert our day and night simply into an unbearable soundtrack of hell, as well as the overhyped civic tranquility and the CDR slogan of respecting neighbors, into pure utopias.

In the face of heavier musical encounters – amplified by forced living proximity between neighbors which has been imposed by the complex housing situation in Cuba over the years – those affected (which are many) can only complain by phone.

In the best case scenario, the police authorities send a patrol car after a certain number of complaints. But, once the situation has been verified, what happens next? Is the case followed up as it should be? What happens with repeat offenders? Is the usual handout of a fine between 200 and 2250 pesos an efficient and sufficient measure? What will happen in a few years time if a lack of noise discipline continues to grow in our society, without a well-studied, articulated and implemented strategy to stop it in its tracks? Will the time come when we have to walk down the street with ear plugs so as to look after our hearing?

I also find myself asking whether after the actual “boom” of this issue, the noise at the heart of our attention will continue and force us all, as equals, to comply with established regulations independently of the sector (private, state, residential) so as to take a stand.

The inescapable root of this whole issue lies in the unbiased respect of everyone’s rights, without differentiating between people, so that the most reasonable solution to the infringement of our rights, is no longer to cover your ears.
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  • Holguinero

    Finally! Dare I say it? An epiphany.
    Haven’t spent the last 17 winters in Cuba, I overwhelming concur that there is a complete lack of respect among many Cubans for their neighbours. Kudos to you Alexander Londres for bringing this plight to the forefront. Mufferless cars speeding down side streets. Drivers not caring who is walking or is riding his bicycle. Loud raucous music playing on usually quiet streets, permeating many barrios. It seems that Sundays, usually a day of rest for most, is the day when people compete to determine who has the loudest music. My adoptive Cuban “familia” live beside a house where music seems to emanate 24/7. Once I asked my “tia,” “Why not ask the president of the street to do something about the loud music?” She informed me that, “The president is the one who is allowing his unemployed son (“vagabon”) to play the loud music.” “What of the police?” I ask. “They don’t care. All my husband and I want is to live quietly and in peace. Is that so much to ask. We cannot read. When we want to watch television. Often, it is necessary to turn up the volume to its maximum?” I shake my head in disgust. I have learned that this scenario plays out in many barrios that I have visited throughout the years.
    There are other examples of the complete disrespect that many Cubans have for their fellow Cubans. However, dear reader, it suffices to say that I think that you get the picture.
    Thank God, for the respect that most of us have for each other here – in a civilized world. Amen.
    Cc Cuban dog and cat owners.
    Cc Cubans who keep farm animals in their homes.
    Cc Cubans who speak loudly, so that they think that they have something more important to say than any other person in the group.

    • Rick Bronson

      I think you are missing the true cause of noise in Cuba. There are
      two vastly different types of “noises”, cultural and raw. Cultural
      would be things like music and vocal, raw would be jack-hammers,
      construction and the biggest of all – transportation noises.

      It’s always odd to me how everyone seems to complain about cultural
      noise but no one seems to bother about the biggest of all noises –
      raw. Maybe because they feel that there is nothing they can do about
      it.

      I just got back from my 7th trip to Cuba so I’m pretty used to both
      sources of noise but I really feel someone needs to attack the raw
      noise issue (both in Cuba and USA) because it’s so much worse than the
      cultural noise problem. The worst offenders are 2-cycle motorcycles
      which all seem to have no mufflers, followed by large trucks. On this
      recent trip I did see one encouraging sign – lots of electric scooter
      on the street which pass by very silently, only the very quiet sound
      of the wheel on the pavement can be heard. I got to love this sound
      while sitting on my Casa porch in Camaguey!

  • Michael Whitaker

    I sincerely enjoyed reading this thought-provoking article, which reminds me of earlier times in the U.S. In contrast to the past, U.S. neighbors typically are so isolated from each other that one does not hesitate to contact the police if a neighbor is overly loud, and police typically will respond.

    However, beyond the issue of respecting quiet spaces of other adults, there are research results regarding the effects of loud noises on children. Specifically, it appears loud noises have harmful effects on children’s learning, short-term memory, reading and writing. There also is evidence loud noise may effect children’s overall cognitive development.

    Thus, if individuals are incapable of respecting the auditory rights of other individuals, consideration must be given to the potential negative effects loud noises have on routine maturation and development of children. When one individual’s insensitivity to the rights of others escalates to causing harm to children, appropriate interventions must be pursued.