Tag Archives: Havana

CHINA PILES INTO CUBA AS VENEZUELA FADES AND TRUMP LOOMS

Reuters, Tue Feb 14, 2017 | 8:17 PM EST

Original Article: China piles into Cuba

CUBA ISN’T WAITING AROUND FOR U.S. WHEN IT’S GOT CHINA

By Marc Frank | HAVANA

From buses and trucks to a $500 million golf resort, China is deepening its business footprint in Cuba, helping the fellow Communist-run state survive a crisis in oil-benefactor Venezuela and insulate against a possible rollback of U.S. detente.

Cuban imports from China reached a record $1.9 billion in 2015, nearly 60 percent above the annual average of the previous decade, and were at $1.8 billion in 2016 as the flow of oil and cash slowed from Venezuela due to economic and political turmoil in the South American country.

China’s growing presence gives its companies a head start over U.S. competitors in Cuba’s opening market. It could leave the island less exposed to the chance U.S. President Donald Trump will clamp down on travel to Cuba and tighten trade restrictions loosened by his predecessor Barack Obama.  A deterioration in U.S.-China relations under Trump could also lead Beijing to dig in deeper in Cuba, some analysts say.

“If and when the Trump administration increases pressure on China … China may decide to double down on its expanding footprint in the United States’ neighborhood,” said Ted Piccone, a Latin America analyst at the Brookings Institution think tank.

China, the world’s second largest economy, sells goods to Cuba on soft credit terms. It is Cuba’s largest creditor and debt is regularly restructured, though amounts and terms are considered state secrets.  While Cuba does not publish investment data, the state press has been abuzz with news of Chinese projects lately, covering infrastructure, telecoms, tourism and electronics.

Yutong (600066.SS) buses, Sinotruk (3808.HK) trucks, YTO (600233.SS) tractors, Geely (0175.HK) cars, Haier (1169.HK) domestic appliances and other products are prominent in Cuba, where the main U.S. products on display are cars dating back to the 1950s, thanks to the ongoing economic embargo.

Cubans flock every day to hundreds of Huawei supplied Wi-Fi hot spots and the firm is now helping to wire the first homes.

“Business is really booming, more than we could have ever imagined,” said the manager of a shipping company which brings in Chinese machinery and transport equipment and who asked not to be identified.

The foreign ministry in Beijing described China and Cuba as “good comrades, brothers, and partners,” and said the relations “were not influenced by any third party,” when asked whether U.S. policy was encouraging China to deepen its presence.  “We are happy to see that recently countries around the world are all expanding cooperation with Cuba. I think this shows that all countries have consistent expectations about Cuba’s vast potential for development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.

The U.S. State Department and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

INCREASED INVESTMENT

Over the past two decades, China has become a major player in Latin America and the Caribbean, second only to the United States in investment flows and diplomatic clout.  But the Asian giant was reluctant to invest in Cuba because of the poor business climate and fear of losing opportunities in the United States, according to Asian diplomats in Havana.

That began to change after Obama moved to normalize relations two years ago and Cuba sweetened investment rules, sparking new interest among U.S. businesses and competitors around the world.  China was well placed because the local government preferred doing business with long-term friends offering ample credit to work with state-run firms.

In return, Cuba has shared contacts and knowledge about the region, and taught hundreds of Chinese translators Spanish.

A report on the government’s official Cubadebate media web site last month said the two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in renewable energy and industry, with 18 Chinese firms taking part in a three-day meeting in Havana.

Plans for several projects were signed, including a joint venture with Haier to establish a renewable energy research and development facility, the report said.  A few weeks earlier, Cuba opened its first computer assembly plant with Haier with an annual capacity of 120,000 laptops and tablets, state media reported.

Other projects include pharmaceuticals, vehicle production, a container terminal in eastern Santiago de Cuba, backed by a $120 million Chinese development loan, and Beijing Enterprises Holdings Ltd. (0392.HK) venture for a $460 million golf resort just east of Havana.  Shanghai Electric (601727.SS) is providing funds and equipment for a series of bioelectricity plants attached to sugar mills.

Barrio Chino, La Habana

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MORE BAD NEWS FOR NEW IDEAS IN CUBA: EUSEBIO LEAL SIDELINED

BY PAUL HARE

In Cuba Today, August 29, 2016

Original Essay: BAD NEWS FOR NEW IDEAS IN CUBA z111

Havana historian Eusebio Leal escorts U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry around Old Havana during a tour of the city last year. Ismael Francisco AP

Very few without Castro in their name have survived in the leadership of the Cuban Revolution as long as Eusebio Leal. And he didn’t do it by the conventional means of silence and obedience. He brought loyalty but also ideas to the Castros. Now the military-run business empire has asserted itself in Old Havana as elsewhere and Leal appears to have been outmaneuvered.

Uniquely among Cuban leaders Leal has cared about other things beyond preserving the Castro Revolution. He has been as fascinated by Cuba’s past as its future. He has received numerous overseas cultural awards but his stature in Cuba has been that he thought differently.

In 2002 the British embassy in Havana staged a two-month-long series of events to commemorate 100 years of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United Kingdom. We were told it was the largest such festival by an overseas country ever held in Cuba. Leal was our indispensable ally for venues, organization, contacts and vision. At times the Revolution’s agenda surfaced and he negotiated hard. But his heart was in the history of both our countries. Leal even created a garden in Old Havana in memory of Princess Diana. And as a historian he loved the story of the British invasion of Havana in 1762.

The military conglomerate GAESA will now assume business control over Leal’s beloved Old Havana project. This has been a labor of love and ingenuity. But it has also depended on his versatile role at the heart of revolutionary politics. He proved a man of taste, of determination but also shone as a contemporary entrepreneur in a Cuba which despises individualism.

His versatility served him well. A teenager at the time of the Revolution, he chose to prove that innovation and a love of past cultures and elegance could coexist with the new era. He admired Fidel, a fellow intellectual, and — not accidentally — he was chosen by the official Cuban media to eulogize his old friend again on his 90th birthday. Typically, the Revolution was extracting a declaration of loyalty from a man who was feeling pretty disgruntled.

Times are changing in Cuba and the undermining of Leal’s control has wider implications.

Times are changing in Cuba and the undermining of Leal’s control has wider implications. He may not be a household name outside Cuba and he may be in failing health. But his project showed he knew the Castros would never allow private sector growth to restore the largest area of Spanish colonial architecture in the Western Hemisphere.

His only chance was to harness funds from tourist visitors and foreign investors. There is still much to do but the current rush of tourists to Cuba owes much to achievement.

Leal’s fate is nothing new. Set in the 57-year context of the Cuban Revolution, many able and loyal leaders have been discarded. Felipe Pérez Roque, Carlos Lage and Roberto Robaina are recent examples. But Leal had survived and appeared to be growing in stature with Raúl. His walking tour of Old Havana with Obama received worldwide publicity.

Leal’s bonding with the U.S. president may have irked the Castros. The disintegration of Venezuela and loss of subsidies under Nicolás Maduro gave the military companies the opening they needed to swoop for Old Havana. Now, effectively Raúl Castro’s son-in-law will rule the roost and U.S.-operated cruise ships will soon be occupying many berths in the Old Havana harbor.

But perhaps the saddest lesson from Leal’s marginalization is the signal it sends to Cuban innovators and foreign investors. The restoration of the Revolution is still more important than the architectural jewels of past eras. Almost at the same time as Leal’s demise, a far less visionary but unquestioning loyalist, Ricardo Cabrisas, was promoted. These are indeed depressing times for Cubans hoping for some new ideas and less of the same.

Z11111Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler, Historiador de La Habana

Paul W. Hare is a former British ambassador to Cuba and currently senior lecturer at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University

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CUBA: MARIEL PORT, ECONOMIC ZONE ATTRACT 1ST FOREIGN FIRMS

By Andrea Rodriguez
Associated Press, Jul 14, 4:30 PM EDT

MARIEL, Cuba (AP) — At Cuba’s new mega-port project west of Havana, shipping containers are stacked five-deep the length of its 2,300-foot (700-meter) dock alongside four massive, Chinese-built offloading cranes. Cuba April 2015 072

Mariel Cranes, April 2014. Photo by A. Ritter

Neon-vested workers are busy laying roads and building a convention center, and trucks filled with dirt rumble over rutted roads and coat the vegetation with dust. Not far from the Mariel container terminal, workers have finished grading a flat area the size of a football field for the first private companies to establish operations in a special economic development zone billed as a key part of the country’s effort to attract foreign investment and jumpstart a sluggish economy.

A year and a half after the port’s launch, only seven companies – five foreign and two domestic – have the green light to operate here. But with six of those approvals coming since January, officials say things are getting off the ground.

“We’re in July and we have approved almost one company per month,” Ana Teresa Igarza, director of the Special Development Zone at Mariel, said in an interview this week, when The Associated Press received access to the site. “The pace is what we expected from the beginning.” “The first ones are the trickiest,” she added. “After they begin to invest, it’s simpler for others to do so. But there’s an exploratory phase.”

Igarza declined to say which companies are coming to Mariel, except that the foreign firms include two from Mexico, two from Belgium and one from Spain. They cover sectors including food, chemicals and logistics, represent total investment of around $50 million and are expected to launch operations in the first half of 2016.

With Mariel, Cuba is also looking ahead to when the U.S. embargo may be lifted as part of a rapprochement begun by presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro in December. Washington and Havana plan to officially restore diplomatic relations on Monday.

Igarza said visiting U.S. businesspeople also have expressed interest. Tractor assembly company Cleber LLC of Alabama has already applied for a U.S. Treasury license with an eye toward building a plant at Mariel. “We see this as attractive and necessary for our economy, and we told them to go ahead with preparing the documentation,” Igarza said.

Located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Havana, the first part of the port and planned development zone are to occupy some 11,000 acres (4,500 hectares) of bay-shore and low hills. Mariel bay is being dredged to a target depth of 59 feet (17.9 meters) to accommodate deeper-draft ships than those that can use the port of Havana, which cannot be expanded because of an automobile tunnel that traverses its mouth.

Container shipping has already been transferred from Havana to Mariel, though the capital still receives fuel tankers and grain shipments. A new railroad line will transport cargo and workers from Havana. Not counting the construction, there are currently just 328 people working at Mariel, though officials project the development zone could ultimately create some 70,000 jobs, including manufacturing, biotech and other areas.

In selling Mariel to investors, Cuba touts its well-educated populace, low labor costs and strategic location in the Caribbean. Officials also talk of the port eventually becoming a center for transshipment activity.

“Without haste, but without pause,” said Igarza, echoing the oft-repeated mantra of Castro and other officials about the pace with which Cuba intends to implement broader economic reforms that in recent years have allowed a smidgen of free-market activity in the communist-run country.

Some observers say that speed is too slow to attract much foreign investment to Mariel. “The timetables from those who are promoting reform along the lines of the slogan `without haste, but without pause,’ I think they’re inadequate,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban economist who teaches at New York University.

Some potential investors are skittish because of how Cuba nationalized properties following the 1959 revolution, and more recent cases of missed payments and assets seized from foreign companies accused of corruption. Several foreign businessmen were even imprisoned. Many also may be happy to let others test development zone rules that offer tax breaks and other incentives and, Cuba says, guarantee assets and access to arbitration if disputes arise. Others are wary about entrenched bureaucracy or disapprove of the requirement that Cuban workers be hired and paid through a government-run employment agency.

But Lopez-Levy said that, at least in principle, the rules at Mariel should do much to ease concerns, such as lessening bureaucratic bottlenecks. Mariel has the potential to be “an exporting platform at a time in which the stars seem to be aligning in a favorable way for the Cuban economy in terms of improving (relations) with the United States and the European Union,” he said

Cuba April 2015 067

Mariel Under Construction, Photo by A. Ritter, April 2015

Cuba April 2015 069

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Cuba in the 2012 Yale University “Environmental Performance Index Rankings.”

By Arch Ritter

In the recently published Yale University 2012 Environmental Performance Index, Cuba’s ranking is surprisingly strong. Its position in the world is # 50 which looks pretty reasonable in comparative international perspective, though the Yale study classifies Cuba as a “Modest Performer”. (The ranking for Canada is #37 and that for the United States is # 49.) In the Latin American context, Cuba is tied for 8th place with Argentina. Other Latin countries rank higher: Costa Rica at #5; Colombia #24; Brazil #30; Ecuador #31; Nicaragua #35; Panama #39; and Uruguay, # 46.

On a second related index, namely the Trend EPI, or the trend rank based on performance over the last decade, Cuba ranks #101 in the world and #12 in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

The Yale Index now seems to be “the gold standard” in such environmental performance indices. Comprehensive information on the Yale index is available on their web site: Yale University 2012 “Environmental Performance Index Rankings”. The detail of the final results and background studies for the 2012 Report are all available here:  File Downloads.

A pictorial summary of the methodology and indices used to construct the composite index are presented in Chart I below, and Cuba’s performance in the various component indices is pictured in Chart 2.Chart 1

Chart 2:

According to the Yale study, and illustrated in Chart 2, Cuba performed well in the following areas:

  • Environmental impacts on health and the environmental burden of disease;
  • Forest cover and planting (reflecting the conversion of sugar lands to plantation);
  • Protected Areas;
  • Agricultural subsidies.

Cuba’s performance was considered weaker in

  • Air quality;
  • The ecosystem effects of water resources;
  • Fisheries;

Cuba was judged to be more or less “OK” on water resources for human consumption and CO2 emissions.

A second study produced as Appendix 5 of the Republic of Cuba – European Union Country Cuba’s Strategy paper and national indicative programme, 2011-2013, Appendix 5  provides  additional information on Cuba’s environmental performance that is more worrying. Among the environmental performance measures and commentaries that it includes are the following:

  • “Of the flora in Cuba about 48% is in danger, of which around 22% in serious risk. Of the fauna these figures are 30% in danger of which 14% in critical risk.”
  • There is an almost complete lack of infrastructure to manage water pollution. “Of the 2,160 main contaminant sources recognized by UNEP, 1,273 or 59 percent, release their pollution into the Cuban environment without any treatment whatsoever. Another 433, or roughly 20 percent, receive limited but inadequate treatment before being discharged.”
  • “Some 17 or 18 percent of urban sewage receives treatment before discharge into Cuban waterways.”
  • According to UNEP, approximately “341,716 tons per year of organic material are discharged into Cuban waters, equivalent to the pollution generated by a population of over 22.3 million people (almost twice the actual population).”
  •  “….it has been estimated that annually 863.4 billion gallons of contaminated water finds its way into Cuba’s rivers, much of it industrial.”
  • “Salt-affected soil covers 14 percent of the national territory, or approximately 1 million hectares. The cost of recovering these salt-affected soils has been estimated at $1.43 billion. This is one of the main contributors to soil erosion which according to the Cuban government, affects 60 percent of Cuba’s territory, which has given rise to serious concerns about desertification, or extreme topsoil loss.”
  • “Waste is collected efficiently in most parts of the country but dumped in uncontrolled dumpsite for the mayor part. The existing landfills for Havana are full and new two landfills will be constructed, making use of state-of the art technology (ground water protection, leakage and leaching control).”

In addition, as visitors to Havana can attest, air pollution is a serious concern though it seems to have improved somewhat since some of the older Soviet era trucks, buses and the “Camellos” have been taken off the streets. The smoke from the old electricity generation plant and the refineries in Havana also has a major effect when the wind is in the wrong direction. The waste waters of Havana are sent by sewage pipe – clearly visible from the eastern part of the Malecon – one kilometer off-shore where they are swept into the Florida Straits – thankfully missing the beach areas or east Havana, Varadero, Cayo Coco, Guardalavaca etc.

All in all, like virtually all other countries, Cuba has no grounds for environmental complacency.

Smoke from Havana’s Thermal Elecctricity Plant, from the Edificio Fochsa,  Photo by Arch Ritter

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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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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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