The 10-Block Pedestrian Zone on Cuba’s Isle of Youth

Vicente Morin Aguado

Where the pedestrian boulevard begins.

HAVANA TIMES — Boulevards for pedestrians are in fashion here in Cuba and provincial capitals compete to be the most beautiful and attractive. Nueva Gerona, the main city on the Isle of Youth, wasn’t left behind as the capital of the so-called Special Municipality, which is in fact an island province that appears in chronicles ever since 1519 with the name Isle of Pines.

Marble, ceramics and mobile phones connected to the pay-for Wi-Fi characterize around 10 blocks of beautiful promenade which is called Marti Street, also typical here in Cuba as all of the city’s main avenues are named after the apostle of our freedoms, which are being abused greatly today.

Two parks mark the beginning and the end of this beautiful passageway, one next to the Catholic church, which is also an essential element of our Spanish heritage, the other called Parrot Park, where a birdcage in the middle displays these pleasant and colorful talking birds.

You can use Wi-Fi along the entire street although I saw that there were quite a few “Nanos”, internet pirates, stealing the signal by interfering with the network which makes it hard to connect because you get error and warning messages about a lack of security when people are using their phones.

Marble, ceramics and Wi-Fi

A side note might be that being a journalist of the “independent” media, a suspicious and derogatory term in Cuba, my internet access was interfered with precisely because during my stay, a fellow writer had been arrested in Holguin which determined an immediate act of solidarity with the colleague who had been unjustly arrested.

Nueva Gerona’s main street is also its only commercial street. In the morning, people sell bread, sweets and food, mainly under state control, although small private establishments exist along the side streets.

At noon, restaurants open: there is El Dragon, which sells Chinese food which stands out for its missing dishes, El Cochinito, better equipped because there is always pork in Cuba and, surprise!, a restaurant which used to be called El Corderito, where you can now enjoy a beef steak for the shocking low price of 22 Cuban pesos, which is completely unheard of in our country.

Nueva Gerona also has its pizza place, a restaurant specializing in different rice dishes but they don’t have a lot to offer on a daily basis, as well as the La Cubana hotel, next to the abovementioned Parrot Park.

Mojitos are never missing after 12 noon either, but the strange thing is that even though a “complete” combination plate of pork steak, rice and beans and salad costs 17 Cuban pesos, less than a dollar, these restaurants are empty during the week. Somebody remarked: “People just don’t have money here.”

The Nueva Gerona pedestrian zone.

If it’s about imitation, this pedestrian zone would definitely rank among the most beautiful here in Cuba. I have seen nearly all of them from the east to the west of the country, and I can tell you that with all confidence. The Isle of Pine’s boulevard is decorated with a lot of visual information which is highlighted via screens which light up at dusk, along with prominent sculptures and important inscriptions on the street, underlining historic events.

You can see some tourists, who are never bothered by the great number of hustlers who are always present in densely-populated cities. Passersby mingle without any trouble and the police don’t seem to be especially concerned with this issue, which is very different to what happens every day in Old Havana, for example.

Even though the landscape is beautiful, travelers end up depressed in the face of such obvious poverty that prevails around them. You realize that the efforts to build a pedestrian boulevard isn’t enough if the people who live there and should be able to enjoy it don’t have the means to with what their honest work gives them.

Vicente Morin Aguado: ememultiplicada@nauta.cu

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    I noted during a visit that the City of Artemisa has similarly developed a boulevard with all the GAESA shops being renovated and the old empty buildings similarly being renovated as additional shops selling the identical products at identical prices. A man there said to me that it was an effort by the regime to make Cubans feel that they had similar conditions to those which exist in the western world, but that it does nothing for living conditions only increasing that Cuban habit of pressing the face against the window to see what is inside. (For the uninformed, I should explain that one cannot just go in and out of Cuban shops, there is control on the doors to ensure that only a few are allowed in at any one time.)
    While I was there, I watched two men installing a set of traffic lights being watched by eight of their colleagues (they were all in the same garb). But watching all ten, were three policemen. Es Cuba!