Tag Archives: Infrastructure

CUBA RELAXES SOME HOUSING REGULATIONS

9 September 2014 – Havana Times

Original here: http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=106049

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government has announced a series of measures aimed at restructuring the country’s current housing system and authorizing the building of dwellings on roofs, empty lots and State-owned land by the population.

The special issue of Cuba’s Official Gazette published this past Friday made public Council of State Decree Law 322/2014, a new legislation that substantially modifies the General Housing Law, in effect since 1988, and seeks to simplify the legal norms governing applications by citizens to request changes of address, the transfer of properties and individual construction work.

The legislation, signed by President Raul Castro on July 31, aims to “improve State housing services and reorganize housing-related activities, reassigning these to entities responsible for work hitherto governed by the National Housing Institute (INV).”

Urban Planning Control

This restructuring will involve the transfer of the INV’s chief functions to the Urban Planning Institute (IPF), presided by General Samuel Rodiles Planas, and to other State entities, such as the Ministries of Construction, Justice and Labor and Social Security and the Provincial and Municipal People’s Court system.

Following this government decision, the INV has become subordinate to the Ministry of Construction and is now tasked with directing, executing and enforcing State and government housing policy.

The Official Gazette also published seven complementary resolutions aimed at making the issuing of permits to the population more efficient, improving regional and urban organization and combatting illegal practices and construction work.

The legislative package will come into effect on January 5, 2015.

Assigning State lands to individuals or entities who request these for the building of homes, certifying that completed dwellings are habitable, approving procedures for technical reports used to value properties and transfer ownership of empty lots and flat roofs, are among the functions now taken on by the IPF.

Land Assignation

The new provisions will regulate the sale, purchase, donation and exchange of empty State lots.

The IPF will be empowered to assign State lots to individuals in need of these for the building of homes. The lot assigned will have to meet basic urban planning requirements, such that individuals may begin construction on these immediately.

“The Municipal Urban Planning Office, in cases approved by the Municipal Administrative Council and in accordance with the priorities established by the State, will be authorized to transfer ownership of State lots to individuals through the pertinent payments, giving these full rights over these properties, so that they may build homes in their jurisdiction, through the procedure to be established by the President of the Urban Planning Institute,” the Council of State Decree points out.

People who are assigned a State lot will be required to begin construction there within a year from purchase. Failing this, authorities will either extend the building permit for an additional year or decide to terminate the agreement, returning the amount paid.

Building on Flat Roofs

Those affected by natural disasters, people living in precarious conditions, welfare cases, those residing in State shelters or in earthquake or disaster-risk areas will be prioritized in the assignation of State lots.

Similarly, the transfer and use of flat roofs for the expansion of homes, through purchases and other mechanisms, will also be made more flexible.

“The owners of individual dwellings, dwellings located in buildings with several stories (where each story constitutes a single dwelling) and dwellings that are part of an apartment building, may, of mutual agreement, grant the owners of dwellings on the top floor the right to expand their homes, or grant a third party the right to build a new dwelling, in the flat roof of the building in question, provided it is technically feasible and does not violate any urban or regional regulations, following authorization from the Provincial Urban Planning Office,” the regulations specify.

The measures are aimed at alleviating Cuba’s housing deficit, calculated at 600,000 dwellings, and at encouraging individual construction efforts. According to official figures, a mere 26,634 new homes were built last year, the lowest figure registered since 2004. The most significant detail, however, is that nearly half (12,217) were built by the population, unaided by the State.

Cuba Apr 2012 012

Paseo del Prado

Cuba Apr 2012 090 Cuba Apr 2012 091 Cuba Mar 2014 094 Cuba Nov 2008 020Some potential reconstruction projects; Photos by A. Ritter

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ETECSA: un monopolio creciente

Original here: ETECSA

Por Emilio Morales, Miami (The Havana Consulting Group).

13-companhia-cubana-de-telefono-435x650.jpg aaaEdificio ETECSA, formerly the US-owned Compania Cubana de Telefono

El crecimiento de los servicios de telefonía celular en Cuba se ha convertido en uno de los más prósperos y rentables negocios que controla el gobierno de Raúl Castro.

El papel imprescindible del desarrollo de las telecomunicaciones para la economía cubana y las necesidades de capital del país han transformado este sector en un exitoso activo financiero durante los últimos seis años. Para ello, el gobierno cubano ha implementado un plan de inversiones que le ha permitido renovar las plantas telefónicas, extender la red de telefonía celular a casi todo el territorio nacional, y preparar y formar a personal técnico y de marketing en el exterior. Actualmente el monopolio estatal cubano ETECSA está valorado en alrededor de $3,000 millones de dólares.

Desde que fuera liberada la contratación de los servicios de telefonía celular en el 2008, el número de líneas arrendadas alcanza los dos millones, lo cual le ha permitido a ETECSA ingresos de alrededor de $2,000 millones de dólares solo en la modalidad de telefonía celular prepagada, que es la que utiliza la población cubana.

Continue Reading: ETECSA March 2014

Año

Líneas

Facturación

2008

431,861

$146,223,512

2009

785,324

$257,403,045

2010

1,127,985

$280,473,300

2011

1,431,589

$340,095,000

2012

1,792,345

$450,100,465

2013E

1,912,340

$561,278,780

emilio-morales-dopicoEmilio Morales

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Cuba bids to lure foreign investment with new port and trade zone

By Marc Frank

Original Article Here:   Mariel

Mariel Harbor

HAVANA, Sept 23 (Reuters) – Cuba published rules and regulations on Monday governing its first special development zone, touting new port facilities in Mariel Bay in a bid to attract investors and take advantage of a renovated Panama Canal.

The decree establishing the zone and related rules takes effect on Nov. 1 and includes significant tax and customs breaks for foreign and Cuban companies while maintaining restrictive policies, including for labor.

Cuba hopes the zone, and others it plans for the future, will “increase exports, the effective substitution of imports, (spur) high-technology and local development projects, as well as contribute to the creation of new jobs,” according to reform plans issued by the ruling Communist Party in 2011.

The plan spoke positively of foreign investment, promised a review of the cumbersome approval process and said special economic zones, joint venture golf courses, marinas and new manufacturing projects were planned. Most experts believe large flows of direct investment will be needed for development and to create jobs if the government follows through with plans to lay off up to a million workers in an attempt to lift the country out of its economic malaise.

The Mariel special development zone covers 180 square miles (466 square km) west of Havana and is centered around a new container terminal under construction in Mariel Bay, 28 miles (45 km) from the Cuban capital.

The zone will be administered by a new state entity under the Council of Ministers, and investors will be given up to 50-year contracts, compared with the current 25 years, with the possibility of renewal. They can have up to 100 percent ownership during the contract, according to Cuba’s foreign investment law.

Investors will be charged virtually no labor or local taxes and will be granted a 10-year reprieve from paying a 12 percent tax on profits. They will, however, pay a 14 percent social security tax, a 1 percent sales or service tax for local transactions, and 0.5 percent of income to a zone maintenance and development fund.

Foreign managers and technicians will be subject to local income taxes. All equipment and materials brought in to set up shop will be duty free, with low import and export rates for material brought in to produce for export.

However, one of the main complaints of foreign investors in Cuba has not changed: that they must hire and fire through a state-run labor company which pays employees in near worthless pesos while investors pay the company in hard currency.

Investors complain they have little control over their labor force and must find ways to stimulate their workers, who often receive the equivalent of around $20 a month for services that the labor company charges up to twenty times more for.

And investors will still face a complicated approval policy, tough supervision, and conflict resolution through Cuban entities unless stipulated otherwise in their contracts. And they must be insured through Cuban state companies.

MARIEL PORT

The Mariel container terminal and logistical rail and highway support, a $900 million project, is largely being financed by Brazil and built in conjunction with Brazil’s Grupo Odebrecht SA. The container facility will be operated by Singaporean port operator PSA International Pte Ltd. The terminal is scheduled to open in January.

Future plans call for increasing the terminal’s capacity, developing light manufacturing, storage and other facilities near the port, and building hotels, golf courses and condominiums in the broader area that runs along the northern coast and 30 miles (48 km) inland.

Mariel Bay is one of Cuba’s finest along the northern coast, and the port is destined to replace Havana, the country’s main port, over the coming years. The Mariel terminal, which will have an initial 765 yards (700 meters) of berth, is ideally situated to handle U.S. cargo if the American trade embargo is eventually lifted, and will receive U.S. food exports already flowing into the country under a 2000 amendment to sanctions.

Plans through 2022 call for Mariel to house logistics facilities for offshore oil exploration and development, the container terminal, general cargo and bulk foods facilities. Mariel Port will handle vessels with up drafts up to 49 feet (15 meters) compared with 36 feet (11 meters) at Havana Bay due to a tunnel under the channel leading into the Cuban capital’s port.

The terminal will have an initial capacity of 850,000 to 1 million containers, compared with Havana’s 350,000.

Leaving Mariel, April 1980

April 23, 1980: Arriving in Key West  on the shrimp boat Big Babe.

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Cuba’s Public Transport System: Adjustments are not Enough

 

Cuba’s Public Transport System: Adjustments are not Enough

July 4, 2013 | Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — Fifty years of unsuccessful attempts at re-structuring its public transportation into a system that works should suffice to make Cuba consider changing the very foundations of the system. The “reorganization” being proposed today promises to be more of the same and is not likely to yield the quality services aimed for.

The last meeting held by Cuba’s Council of Ministers publicly recognized that the country’s transportation system “has been unstable, inadequate and low-quality for years.” The common Cuban who “hops on a bus” every day has something similar to say, albeit with far less refined words.

“Updates” can help steer those sectors that actually work, such as public health, education or sports, in the right direction. It can even improve the tourism industry, which has seen much progress in the course of the last 3 decades.

Cuba’s public transportation system, however, has always been bad and, in recent years, has gone from bad to worse. Truth is, it wasn’t even satisfactory in the days of Soviet aid, when there was plenty of money and State subsidies to invest in it.

One of the many problems faced by the sector are the odd administrative decisions of Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation, which purchases buses from China but demands that they be equipped with U.S. engines, as though oblivious to the economic embargo that has existed for over fifty years.

When the engine in one of those buses breaks down, Cuba has to buy it from the United States. The purchase is conducted through a foreign company and involves sending the product to a third country, where it is re-shipped to Cuba. Prices naturally skyrocket and spare parts take a long time to reach the island.

What’s more, a whole series of meetings between the commercial departments of the Cuban import companies and Ministry experts are held before the order is actually placed. There are committees that convene to evaluate one, specific aspect of the product, which refer the matter to other committees designed to review other product details, which in turn call on a third committee…and this process goes on and on for months.

All the while, the broken bus idles at a State workshop where, many a time, it is scavenged for pieces that can be sold in the black market. When the Ministry finally decides to make a purchase, more spare parts are needed and the whole, interminable process of committee meetings begins anew.

In this way, Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation has at times managed to keep half of Havana’s public buses out of circulation, a remarkable feat when we recall that the country has purchased a large fleet of vehicles from China.

Organizing a functioning public transportation system anywhere is, admittedly, a complex task which requires experts, large investments and continuous subsidies. Such efforts, however, are only successful when the system, at base, actually works, be it in a wealthy or poor country.

All transportation resources should be a part of a single, unified system. Photo: Raquel Perez

Granting a large number of vehicle owners licenses to operate as private cabs greatly improved Cuba’s public transportation situation, but the government undertook this liberalization without establishing a standard fare, the routes where these taxis must circulate and a maximum frequency of operations, regulations which are currently being applied in many countries around the world.

In the end, those who end up paying for the absence of official regulations are the passengers, for cab drivers charge whatever they feel like charging and circulate down the city’s busiest streets at the time of day they deem convenient, leaving other areas of the city bereft of viable transportation.

I also hear that the government will begin encouraging the use of bicycles as a means of transportation people can use to move around the city. Vice-President Murillo even said that authorities “will evaluate the possibility of selling spare parts needed to maintain the bicycles at subsidized prices.”

When I questioned the wisdom of removing bicycle lanes from Cuban streets in this blog, I was accused of being hypercritical. Now, it appears as though they will have to bring back these lanes, as selling cheap bicycles won’t be enough – you also need to give cyclists a safe space to move in.

Some people make fun of this proposal, as though the use of this means of transportation were a sign of backwardness. In fact, many developed nations promote the widespread use of bicycles and have an extensive network of bike lanes. Some major cities, like Barcelona, even have an efficient public bicycle rental system.

Cuba, a poor country, would benefit considerably from a strategy that availed itself of its various resources, creating a transportation system that could harmonize State, private, cooperative and even individual initiative.

To get there, however, the many import companies and endless committees that have been stepping on the brakes of the State must be removed, the private sector must be organized more efficiently, the cooperative sector expanded and inexpensive, individual alternatives which the population can afford must be sought.

Everything depends on how priorities are established. With what the government spends on only one of the thousands of vehicles it imports for use by its companies and ministries, a dozen electrical motorcycles or hundreds of good-quality bicycles could be purchased.

To buy a new bus, there’s no need to make an additional investment – importing 10 less automobiles suffices. The government could begin by suspending the practice of assigning vehicles to transportation officials, so as to give them the opportunity to experience what their less privileged compatriots endure (and think) on a daily basis.

Cuba’s economic progress should not be measured on the basis of the number of automobiles in circulation around the country, the fact there are more luxury cars on the street or we catch sight of a Hummer in Havana from time to time.

True success in this area will be to guarantee that ordinary Cubans have the means of transportation they need to get to work every day and take their kids to the Zoo one weekend or other.

Cooperativa de Omnibus Aliados, in the 1950s, (driving up Montes, it looks like)

Estacion Central de Ferrocarriles, Havana

Bicytaxis, Havana, November 2008

Camello, on Paseo de Prado (Marti), 1990s

Old Engines awaitying a home in a museum, in the shadow of the Capitolio, November 2008

New Chinese Bus, (driving up La Rampa?)

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Construction trades people to be allowed to form co-ops

Cuba Standard March 27,2013

The government will be allowing the creation of cooperatives for building maintenance and renovation, Cuba’s economic reform czar Marino Murillo announced in a speech  about domestic trade, according to official daily Granma.

In addition, the Domestic Trade Ministry will expand sales of much-needed construction supplies and create more wholesale channels, Vice President Murillo said March 27, without providing any details.

While the government announced last year it will support the creation of urban cooperatives, a body of regulations for the new cooperatives has yet to be published.

In order to be successful, the new cooperatives must be based on the free will and convenience of their members, function independently, be efficient, and offer quality products and services, said University of Havana economist Jesús Cruz at a workshop in the Havana headquarters of Cuba’s official union March 26.

Murillo’s announcement seems to open a window of opportunity for carpenters, electricians, plumbers and painters to get into business for themselves, albeit collectively. While the government allowed private businesses to engage in 178 activities two years ago, some construction trades are not included.

Demand for construction services is high, as Cuba is facing the deep and growing challenge of a neglected and crumbling housing stock. But so are obstacles. In 2012, construction supply sales through government-owned outlets — the only ones that offer the much-needed goods — were more than 20 percent below planned targets, Murillo said.

Last week, the government announced the creation of a wholesale company on the Isle of Youth, an apparent pilot project in the effort to channel affordable supplies to Cuba’s fast-growing private sector.



In Need of Repairs: One hopes that cooperative enterprise can help.

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Hurricane Sandy: Cuba struggles to help those hit

12 November 2012. By Sarah Rainsford. BBC News, Santiago province, Cuba

Siboney was a pretty town on the Caribbean coast of Cuba before Hurricane Sandy tore through. Now, it is a disaster area. In some spots there are piles of rubble in place of houses. Many of those buildings still standing have gaping holes in their walls; most are missing all, or part of, their roofs.

Residents are still struggling to come to terms with the destruction more than two weeks after the passage of the storm which killed 11 people in eastern Cuba and razed 15,000 homes.

“We have had cyclones before, but nothing like this devastation,” says Trinidad, a pensioner whose house was drenched and possessions washed away when waves up to 9m (30ft) high smashed through Siboney.

The sick and infirm had been evacuated from the town, but everyone else was at home.

They talk about having watched a state TV forecast defining Sandy as a tropical storm; then the power went out. The next morning they were hit by a Category Two hurricane.

Trinidad tells me: “I stayed to try to protect my things, because I am poor. But I couldn’t. I had no time to save anything.” “I want to leave here now,” she confesses, starting to cry. “I’m afraid.”

The damage further up the coast is even worse. One house has concertinaed to the ground, as if hit by an earthquake.

Joaquin Variento Barosso leans on the squashed ruins of his home and remembers the storm’s arrival. “The sea was furious. It carried off everything: bed, fridge, mattress.” “We had to run, but we watched the destruction from higher ground.”

No electricity

Many people have moved in with relatives. Others are now sheltering in state workers’ holiday homes where basic food is being provided. But by Friday, 16 days after the storm, Siboney still had no electricity. Teams of electricians were deployed to Santiago province from all over the island within hours of the hurricane hitting. They have been working late every night to repair thousands of lamp posts and reconnect power lines.

The lights came back on in Cuba’s second city, Santiago, late last week. But restoring power to everyone is a huge task.

“Cuba had not seen anything like this at least in 60 years.” Barbara Pesce Monteiro, UN co-ordinator.

“We’ve got no money, not even a spoon to eat with. There’s nothing left,” Joaquin Barosso shrugs, contemplating the destruction of his house, and his hometown. “I don’t know what we’ll do now.”

The situation is particularly tough for a poor country like Cuba, which is still struggling to re-house those caught up in the last major storms four years ago.

Subsidies

This time, the government has announced a 50% price cut for construction materials and interest-free loans to repair the damage. That aid will be means-tested, in line with the new Cuban thinking. Further subsidies are promised for the poorest or hardest hit. There are already supplies of usually scarce building materials in a street in Siboney, including corrugated iron sheets, metal rods and cement.

Nearby, local officials are compiling data from families about the damage they have suffered. They have recorded 178 total house collapses in this small area alone. A blackboard advertises the cost of building materials, halved by a government subsidy

Housing officer Susen Correa is helping the effort and she assures me: “People were pretty depressed at first, but the mood has lifted since we’ve been offering support.” “They are traumatised, but we are trying to address as many of their problems as we can.”

Across the province, other military and civilian teams were mobilised quickly to clear the streets of rubble and an estimated 6.5m cubic metres (230m cubic feet) of felled trees. This once lush, green region now looks bare. And it is not just the small or coastal towns like Siboney that have suffered.

Santiago city itself is a jumble of missing roofs, flattened street signs and smashed windows. Bizarrely, the giant replica bottle above the original Bacardi rum complex has survived.

Aid arrives

By Friday, 18 planeloads of humanitarian aid had arrived in the region from countries including Venezuela, Russia and Japan as well as the International Red Cross and UN.

The resident UN co-ordinator, Barbara Pesce Monteiro, is visiting the hurricane zone. “This [situation] is extraordinary. Santiago de Cuba had not seen anything like this at least in 60 years. It goes far beyond what they’re used to,” she explains. “It has affected a large population and all the livelihoods that go around it. It is obviously on a major scale and needs to be given attention.”

None of those many tonnes of foreign aid – food, clothes, and construction materials – have made it to Siboney yet, or its newly homeless. But Maria Louisa Bueno of the Ministry for Foreign Trade and Investment denies that the government is being excessively slow to deliver aid. “Institutions like hospitals, homes for the elderly and schools are favoured,”

She points out that storage warehouses need re-roofing after the storm to protect the aid.

“The hurricane victims will be looked after by the government, you can be clear on that,” she insists.

On Friday, the Red Cross made the first delivery direct to the population, taking cookery and hygiene packs to the picturesque, but now battered Cayo Granma, a few minutes ferry-ride from the mainland. The aid had arrived in Cuba the day before. Its delivery, via a long human chain of volunteers, was applauded by residents still picking up the pieces in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

But this is short-term emergency relief. A massive recovery task lies ahead.

“We have got nothing left but the clothes we were wearing,” Roberto Salazar tells me, amidst the flattened ruins of his home. The enormous rock responsible now stands in what used to be a bedroom. It was thrown through the house by a raging sea.

“I need to find some way of rebuilding it all,” Roberto says, quietly. “But it won’t be easy.”

Impacts of Hurricane Sandy on Santiago de Cuba

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Cuba’s crumbling buildings mean Havana housing shortage

By Sarah Rainsford;  BBC News, Havana

Havana risks seeing its historic city centre reduced to ‘a void’

Havana is beguiling from a distance, especially its old colonial buildings bathed in tropical sunshine. But up close this city is crumbling. Number 69 on the Malecon, the city’s long seafront, looks particularly perilous. The apartment block has gaping holes where chunks of brick and plaster have fallen away. Bare metal rods protrude where balconies used to be.

“Look how badly these columns have deteriorated,” says Olga Torriente, pointing to thick cracks in the external wall of her flat, up on the top floor.

She pulls her bed into the centre of the room in a storm, afraid the whole wall could come crashing down.  Big chunks have already fallen off this building on the Malecon Some of Olga’s neighbours – those judged priority cases – have been rehoused. Others joined a “microbrigada”, or construction team, almost three years ago to help build a replacement apartment block for themselves. But there is still no completion date, and no alternative.

“How long will we have to wait? We need to get out,” says Ms Torriente. “People ask me if I’m not afraid to live here. Of course I’m afraid, but this is my house so where can I go?”

Like Ms Torriente, most Cubans own the house they live in – one of the principles of the revolution. But many have lacked the funds to maintain them.

Adding to Cuba’s difficulties, some 200,000 families across the island were left homeless by devastating hurricanes in 2008.

“Buildings are crumbling because they’re old. Then there’s the salt spray, humidity, termites, hurricanes and overcrowding. There are many kinds of problems and sometimes altogether,” explains former city architect Mario Coyula.

Seven out of every 10 houses need major repairs, according to official statistics. Some 7% of housing in Havana has formally been declared uninhabitable. The province around the capital needs some 300,000 more properties.   The shortage has forced expanding families to build lofts and new partitions within their homes, putting weakened structures under additional strain.

“It’s difficult, because neither the government nor the people have the money to care for the buildings. In a way, we inherited a city we are not able to keep,” Mr Coyula says, referring to Havana’s once grand colonial-era architecture in particular.

But the government is now trying to stop the rot – literally. For decades, Cuba subsidised all construction materials, but production slumped when state budgets became strained. Finding materials was difficult and an expensive black market emerged. There were also tight restrictions on building work.

Now, Cuba has shifted tack. It is allowing builders yards to sell materials at market prices, while offering state funds to help those home owners in most need. Hurricane victims are a priority but anyone on a low income and in what is considered “vulnerable” housing can apply.

“We used to subsidise materials now we’re subsidising the individual,” says Marbelis Velazquez, from Havana’s provincial housing office. “Not everyone is in the same situation, economically and the state clearly has to help those most in need,” she says.

The new grants range from 5,000 Cuban pesos ($208) for minor repairs to a maximum 80,000 pesos ($3,333) to build a 25 sq metre room from scratch.

In Cerro, one of central Havana’s most run-down districts, the Padro family is hoping their own petition will be accepted. Nadia Padro’s parents built a basic wooden and brick shack in their garden when living there with six siblings and assorted partners and grandchildren became too crowded. There is a kitchen, with water and electricity. But the roof leaks when it rains and Nadia and her husband have to squeeze into one bed at night alongside their two young children. “A government grant would really improve things,” Nadia says, explaining that they want to build a separate room for their daughters. Neither she nor her husband has a steady job and could never afford the work on their own.

The government plans to fund the grants with the sales tax it collects from state-owned building yards. It has already increased production and after years of bare forecourts, the yards are filling up with materials for sale.

“Before you had to hunt for things through friends or contacts,” Hernan Mayor explains, as he loads roofing material onto the back of his bike at The Wonder builders yard. He has been saving money to build a small extension to his house. “The materials are all here legally now, which is better. If things were a bit cheaper, it would be perfect. But at least they’re available now,” he says.

Nadia Padro is hoping to get a government grant to build another room in her shack New regulations have also made it much faster – and simpler – to get a licence for new building work. And, for the first time, bank credit is becoming available.

So Cuba is creeping into action over its housing stock. But the delay has already cost dearly. In Havana alone, it is said that three houses collapse either partially or completely every single day.

As for the city’s heritage, beyond the carefully restored “hub” of Old Havana, much of that may already have been lost for good. “It’s impossible to preserve all the buildings, I know many will go,” says s architect Mario Coyula. “If nothing changes, Havana may end like a circle…with a void in the middle where the city used to be.”

Havana, April 2012, Photos by Arch Ritter


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SPECIAL REPORT: “Cuba’s little capitalists are ready to rumba”

Fri May 4, 2012 3:30pm IST

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA May 2 (Reuters) – When Ojacy Curbello and her husband opened a restaurant at their home in Havana in late December, not a single customer showed up.

It was a disheartening debut for Bollywood, the first Indian restaurant in the Cuban capital. Curbello worried that their dream of cashing in on recent reforms in this Communist-run country would collapse.

The next day customers began trickling in. As word spread, the trickle became a flood. Many nights the couple had to turn people away or serve them at the family dining table and call in extra help. Today they are planning to increase the 22-seat capacity by expanding their 1950s home and putting tables and a bar in what is now their bedroom.

“It has been amazing how quickly it has taken off,” said Curbello, still looking slightly stunned. She sat with her husband, Cedric Fernandez, a Londoner of Sri Lankan descent, in the main dining area, hung with prints of Indian figures.

Bollywood’s story is an example of how life is slowly changing in Cuba since President Raul Castro launched a string of limited economic reforms in 2010.

Continue reading Here: Mark Frank SPECIAL REPORT Cuba’s little capitalists are ready to rumba

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Cuba’s World Heritage Sites

By Arch Ritter

Havana Fortifications, by Natascha Chaviano, 1997

I think of Old Havana almost every day when I walk over the gates in the Hartwell Locks of the Rideau Canal on my way to Carleton University. This is because the Rideau Canal and its Fortifications, like Old Havana and its Fortifications, is a fully certified “World Heritage Site”!  The Rideau Canal was built in 1834 to provide a secure water route from Montreal to Lake Ontario – secure against the United States, which had just been defeated in the War of 1812 when it tried to capture Canada. The Havana Fortifications were designed to secure the harbor and the Armada against pirates and the British – who in fact had succeeded in capturing Havana in 1762 (see the second last picture below.).

Rideau Canal entering the Ottawa River

Having lived beside the Rideau Canal system in Kingston and Ottawa for over half a century, I took it for granted but was pleasantly surprised when it received World Heritage (WH) status. But in thinking further, perhaps the WH designations have not been debased – at least not in the case of the Canal, which is an amazing piece of 19th century engineering. It was built by British tax-payers, English military engineers, Scottish stone-masons, and Irish navies.  It has been in active service from 1840 to the present. Its sister canal is the Caledonian Canal in Scotland.

Cuba has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The jewel in the crown of course is Old Havana, which is undoubtedly one of the historical wonders of the Western Hemisphere. The work of the “Historian of Havana”, Eusebio Leal, in preserving and reviving the old city is outstanding and perhaps underappreciated. I have visited only a few of the other WH sites in Cuba, so I will not venture any commentaries on the possible debasement of standards in the acceptance of such sites on the part of UNESCO. (One suspects that as more and more sites receive the WH designation, the standards may decline.) Trinidad and Viñales, are destinations for many visitors to Cuba and certainly worth seeing. The inclusion Camaguey and Cienfuegos historic centers was a surprise for me. I have not yet been to the other sites so I will not comment.

Here is a listing of the World Heritage Sites, hyperlinked to the relevant UNESCO web pages

There are also three additional sites in the process of proposal or submission to UNESCO.

Cuba seems to have done very well relative to other Latin American countries in having sites granted the WH status. Only Mexico with 31 and Brazil with 18 have more such sites. Otherwise, the countries with the most designations are the larger European countries with long histories such as the UK with 29 WH sites, France with 37, Germany 37, Italy 46 and Spain 37. The United States has a mere 21 WH sites while Canada has 15. The process for obtaining UNESCO designation appears to be rigorous and impartial (See the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.) However, I suspect that the campaigning by national governments to have their sites nominated and accepted is an important factor as well.

Is there an economic value to having sites receive the UNESCO World Heritage designation? Certainly tourist promotion and foreign exchange earnings are perhaps the most obvious economic benefit. Travelers pay attention to the designation and often conclude that sites with the designation are worth visiting. I at one time thought that it would be an interesting challenge to visit all 936 UNESCO sites during my life. If life and finances were infinite I would definitely do so. I am currently at # 97 so I might not make it all the way. However, I will definitely try to visit all of Cuba’s WH sites.

A second benefit is that UNESCO requires that any site with the WH designation has to be taken well maintained. This provides a useful incentive to preserve cultural sites and protecting natural sites. Greater international and national attention to the cultural and physical sites can only be positive.

 Havana Fortifications Castillo de la Fuerza

Fortaleza de San Carlos de La Cabana, La Habana

“His Britannic Majesty’s Land Forces Taking Possession of Havannah (sic.), August 14, 1762 and Sloops of War Assisting to Open the Booms” Artist: Philip Orsbridge.    Less than a year after Havana was captured by the British in the Seven Years War it was returned to Spain in exchange for Florida by the Treaty of Paris. By the same treaty, France chose to retain Guadalupe and Martinique in exchange for Quebec which went to the British.

Living History at Fort Henry Kingston

 

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Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, “Cuba’s Collapsing Capital”

January 31, 2012 |  Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES, from Cubaencuentro, Jan 30 — The recent collapse of a building in the Centro neighborhood of Havana is sad news that speaks to us of dead, injured and homeless – tragic losers of the nation’s “updating” of its model.

But the news isn’t surprising.

The only surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often.

In fact, if this doesn’t happen every day in the Cuban capital, it’s because our architects and engineers left us with a solid housing stock, one proven by the test of time and generations of occupants.

The condition of housing has been complemented by of our fellow citizens, whose one-thousand-and-one ways of shoring up those crumbling buildings will someday have to be chronicled. They somehow manage to continue living in these structures until gravity finally catches up with them, these defiant challengers.

I’m not going to dwell on a balance of accomplishments and failures of the city over this long post-revolutionary era. I’m just saying that, even considering the usual benefits, the city lost much more than what it should have lost to achieve more balanced regional development across the nation as a whole.

It’s missing a lot because it lost the most dynamic segment of its middle and intellectual class; it lost its excellent infrastructure in the heat of neglect and carelessness; and finally it lost its particular metropolitan character due to the mediocre plebeian stoicism of its post-revolutionary political class.

To compensate themselves for their revolutionary efforts, a new leadership layer took special care to redistribute the best homes in the best places and to reserve exceptional sites for their own recreational pleasures.

Havana was sacrificed by a post-revolutionary elite who understood the change as anti-urban stubbornness and who saw the “new man” (to quote Emma Alvarez Tabio) as the noble savage laying constant siege to the city.

We still recall the Havana invaded by farmers, cattle fairs on the grounds of the Capitolio, Fidel’s failed coffee belt around Havana and his ridiculous idea of moving the capital to the small eastern town of Guaimaro.

However, the city ultimately suffered the conversion of architectural gems into rooming houses and government offices, to which were added makeshift garages, sheds in gardens and terraces, rooms where once existed gates and balconies, and the famous “barbacoas” (second floor additions), which have all pushed these buildings to the extreme limits of their physical tolerance.

Restored Old Havana Building. Photo: Caridad

If from the early revolutionary years we can point to a respectable architectural legacy along with achievements on behalf of the urban majority (as evidenced through accomplishments such as the Habana del Este planned community), the Pastorita city-garden, Cubanacan art school), what followed was pathetic: formalized overcrowding (whose most well-known expression is the Alamar “projects”) and one of the most ghastly buildings in the world: the Soviet Embassy.

Due to policing that prevented the growth of slums on the urban periphery, as occurs in almost all Third World cities, the city ended up swallowing its marginality. This is manifested in unprecedented overcrowding that gives life to about 10,000 tenements in which their occupants live in some of the most subhuman conditions.

My fear is that we are beginning to experience another phase of the history of this city. The  “socialist” city (mediocre and boring) is giving way to another city whose “brand” is precisely the metropolitan situation that was denied for five decades – with its glamor, mysteries and nights of sequins and sex.

This is precisely the Havana that City Historian Eusebio Leal restored to the extent of both his own Hispanophile and courtesan inclinations as well as to the present and potential tastes of consumers.

The Havana that’s being designed will lie along the coast with its extensive golf courses and exclusive marinas. It is a Havana that will have little to do with the poor people who lost homes and family members in the recent Infanta and Salud building collapse.

Havana is beginning its gentrification process in the heat of the legalized housing market, which while still lukewarm is nevertheless inexorable. Elegant Havana will again take shape where now live the old political elite and increasingly the new emerging elite, intimately tied together, in the metamorphic process given to us by the general/president with his “updating.”

This is the Havana of future Cuban capitalism.

“Havana A” will bypass those people who — like the victims living on Infanta and Salud — every night fear a disaster. For these people, like for the thousands of victims who exist in shelters, like the hundreds of thousands waiting for a new home or the repair of an already existing one in the capital, what will remain is “Habana B”: a city of the poor and impoverished, one with the worst services and the worst environmental conditions.

They no longer even have hopes for units in Alamar. The Cuban government, in the process of abdicating its social responsibilities, has left only one option to those who live on the island: cheap loans for housing repairs. What’s more, access to this assistance is only possible through this system of shared misery and monopolized power that the degraded Cuban elite insist on presenting as an option for the future.

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