Tag Archives: Infrastructure

MEANWHILE: ANOTHER MAJOR “DERRUMBE” IN OLD HAVANA, THIS TIME ALONG THE MALECÓN

Original Spanish Language Article

14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 April 2021

At least one man was seriously injured on Thursday when two buildings completely collapsed and part of a third also fell on Havana’s Malecón. The buildings were semi-dilapidated, fenced with metal, uninhabited, and at the time of the collapse they were being demolished by construction workers.

The two buildings and the fragment of a third that collapsed are located on what is officially called Maceo Avenue between Águila and Crespo streets, very close to the Prado de La Habana. According to a nearby resident, “the workers demolishing them were using a jackhammer when what was left of the buildings fell down.”

“At least one man was seriously injured, because he was passing by on the sidewalk and the metal fence gave way with the pieces that fell. Half of his body was buried under the rubble and other people also suffered minor injuries,” detailed the neighbor, who also added: “It was a danger even for the cars passing on the street.”

“There wasn’t any good signage telling people not to pass by,” a neighbor told this newspaper, noting that “not only were the buildings collapsing, but there were electrical cables on the sidewalk and every time I passed by I had to step off the sidewalk, but this a street with fast-moving traffic and every time you step off the sidewalk your life is at stake.”

“Everything around here is grim, the day will come when we will see the entire Malecon collapse,” laments another neighbor. “They don’t fix things here, they just paint them when an important visitor is coming, or tear them down to build hotels,” he complained. “This demolition work should not have been done without closing the block.”

“The east building has just collapsed right now, right here in front of me,” a passerby reported through a live broadcast on the social network Facebook, and who also recorded the moment when the injured man was taken from the place in a vehicle heading to a hospital. “It fell on a man,” he explained in the video.

The images show a group of people trying to rescue the injured man from under the fragments of the building. “The debris reached to the other side of the street,” explained the internet user in a transmission of slightly longer than a minute.

The collapsed building is located in the municipality of Centro Habana, one of the most populated in the capital and which for decades has been an area characterized by the high presence of tenements, with infrastructure problems and overcrowding. Many of the buildings are from the early twentieth century and have not received repairs for more than fifty years, not even painting on their facades.

In the vicinity of the Malecon, the buildings have suffered especially the effects of the salt air which, together with the lack of maintenance, have turned the housing stock in the area into one of the most damaged in the Cuban capital. The successive programs launched by the Government have not resolved the increasingly frequent collapses.

It has been three years since the Government acknowledged a deficit of almost one million homes on the island, a very serious situation that it aspired to alleviate in a period of ten years. However, the shortage of materials due to a persistent crisis exacerbates a problem that continues to leave millions of people in suspense, not knowing when they might see their roof coming down.

According to a report from the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights last October, almost half of the homes in the country need repair, and 11% of families live in places at risk of collapse.

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RUSIA SUSPENDE HASTA NUEVO AVISO LA MODERNIZACIÓN DEL FERROCARRIL CUBANO

El secretario ejecutivo de la Comisión Intergubernamental Ruso-Cubana de Comercio, Oleg Kucheriáviy,  lamentó el “silencio” y “dilación” de las autoridades de la Isla.

14ymedio, La Habana | Diciembre 29, 2020

Original Article: RUSIA SUSPENDE

Rusia ha suspendido el proyecto de modernización de los ferrocarriles cubanos “debido a las dificultades económicas y las restricciones de cuarentena en la Isla”, según informó al diario Gudok el director de la empresa estatal de ferrocarriles del país euroasiático (RZD), Serguéi Pávlov.

“Lamentablemente, hemos tenido que suspender nuestro proyecto de modernización integral de la infraestructura ferroviaria cubana debido a las dificultades económicas y las restricciones de cuarentena en la Isla, pero esperamos reanudar las obras después de que la situación se haya estabilizado”, apuntó Gudok.

En octubre de 2019, RZD firmó con la Unión de Ferrocarriles de Cuba un convenio para modernizar toda la estructura ferroviaria cubana, que ha sufrido un profundo deterioro en las últimas décadas. Según el acuerdo, Rusia financiaba completamente el proyecto, valorado en 2.314 millones de dólares.

En los planes iniciales estaban el diseño, la reparación y la modernización de más de 1.000 kilómetros de la infraestructura ferroviaria

En los planes iniciales estaban el diseño, la reparación y la modernización de más de 1.000 kilómetros de la infraestructura ferroviaria con materiales, tecnologías y equipos de producción rusa. También la creación de un centro único de control de circulación de trenes y la formación, en centros educativos rusos, de personal de la Isla.

La noticia llega menos de una semana después de que el ministro de Transportes de Cuba, Eduardo Rodríguez, el embajador de Rusia en La Habana, Andrei Guskov, y el representante comercial ruso en la Isla, Alexander Bogatyr, recibieran en La Habana siete locomotoras, en medio de fuertes dudas sobre el futuro de la cooperación entre los viejos aliados.

“La llegada de estas locomotoras a Cuba coloca al ferrocarril en una mejor posición para enfrentar los retos de transporte del próximo año; vemos a este proyecto, que se ha desarrollado como parte de los acuerdos de la Comisión Intergubernamental Cuba-Rusia con la compañía rusa Sinara, como ejemplar”, dijo entonces Rodríguez a la agencia rusa Sputnik.

Los funcionarios presentes en el acto de recibimiento de los equipos se esforzaron en declarar que la cooperación seguía adelante aunque “los efectos del covid y de esta crisis derivada de la pandemia nos han obligado a extender los plazos y a reorganizar los proyectos, pero la voluntad y continuidad de estos proyectos se mantienen vigentes y continuaremos en 2021 trabajando en esa dirección”, remarcó Rodríguez.

El mensaje apoyado por Bogatyr, que lamentó que fuera “la única entrega de locomotoras este año, pero estamos seguros de que el año próximo será más fructífero (…) así que los planes de colaboración son importantes en la esfera de los ferrocarriles, no solamente con Sinara, sino con otras importantes empresas rusas que tienen proyectos y esperan continuar desarrollándolos”.

Ninguno de los dos hizo alusión a las palabras del secretario ejecutivo de la Comisión Intergubernamental Ruso-Cubana de Comercio, Cooperación Económica, Científica y Técnica, Oleg Kucheriáviy, que unos días antes dejaban entrever una cancelación masiva de inversiones en Cuba por incumplimientos por parte de La Habana.

El funcionario detalló a la prensa rusa que, de los 60 proyectos conjuntos, apenas diez estaban llevándose a cabo

El funcionario detalló a la prensa rusa que, de los 60 proyectos conjuntos, apenas diez estaban llevándose a cabo y señaló en una reunión de la Comisión de Asuntos Internacionales del Senado que la última sesión de la comisión intergubernamental, que debía celebrarse en la Isla, fue cancelada por “silencio” y “dilación” de las autoridades cubanas.

Yuri I. Borisov, viceprimer ministro de Rusia y encargado desde 2018 de las relaciones económicas con Cuba ya dijo aquel año a la televisión de su país, tras un viaje a la Isla, que los funcionarios cubanos no tenían interés en poner dinero para las inversiones necesarias y que en las negociaciones imperaba una mentalidad de la Guerra Fría que en la Rusia postsoviética ya no tiene lugar.

“Son negociantes complicados, no lo voy a esconder, la mentalidad del pasado pesa sobre ellos constantemente. Durante las negociaciones, en las posiciones que llevan, siempre aparece que somos un puesto de avanzada de la revolución mundial y simplemente nos tienen que ayudar”, señaló.

La pausa en el acuerdo llega en un mal momento para el transporte de pasajeros y cargas en la Isla, muy afectado por la obsolescencia tecnológica y los problemas de infraestructura. El total de locomotoras que tenía previsto suministrar Rusia en el marco del acuerdo era de 75, de las cuales ya han llegado 60. Según el ministro de Transportes, muchas de ellas ya “participan en los principales tráficos de transportes del ferrocarril en Cuba”.

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THE MAN WHO SAVED HAVANA: EUSEBIO LEAL

AS ITS GREATEST OLD BUILDINGS WERE FALLING DOWN, A FEARLESS HISTORIAN NAMED EUSEBIO LEAL REMADE THE CITY INTO A STUNNING WORLD DESTINATION and WORLD HERITAGE SITE.

Smithsonian, May 2018.
Read more: EUSEBIO LEAL

On a sweltering morning in Old Havana, a courtly figure in a crisp gray guayabera shirt weaves through the Plaza de Armas, the city’s Spanish colonial heart, trying not to attract attention. Although none of the foreigners lolling beneath the banyan trees and royal palms recognize him, a ripple of excitement passes through the Cubans, who nudge each other, smile and stare. Perhaps only on this island obsessed with its operatic past could a historian become a celebrity on a par with a Clooney or DiCaprio. Eusebio Leal is the official historian of the city of Havana, a regal-sounding position that brings with it enormous influence and exposure—he starred for many years in his own TV show where he explored Old Havana’s streets—and he is as far from the cliché of the dusty, isolated academic as it is possible to get. In fact, Leal is credited with almost single-handedly bringing Old Havana from the brink of ruin to its current status as the most ravishing and vibrant architectural enclave in the Western Hemisphere.

Deftly dodging well-wishers, Leal ducks into the Historical Library, where some 50 female workers line up to kiss him on the cheek and offer flustered greetings. In his hectic round of duties, he has come to honor one of Cuba’s countless obscure intellectual champions—a certain Alfredo Zayas Méndez, who founded this archive 80 years ago, an exalted act in a nation with the highest level of education in Latin America. Standing before a plaque, Leal orates off the cuff for 45 minutes about the biblio-hero Zayas, a rhetorical tour de force that includes fond personal anecdotes, philosophical musings on “the importance of memory” and flirtatious exchanges that make the audience collapse into helpless laughter. He then takes questions, poses for snapshots, examines a restoration plan for the Havana Capitol—offering his expert opinion about work on the dome—before dashing off with his minder to a high-level government meeting.

The whirlwind visit leaves everyone a little dazed. At age 75, Leal shows no signs of slowing his notoriously hectic pace. For the last 50 years, almost as long as the Cuban revolution has lasted, his outsized personality has been inseparable from Old Havana itself. Working within the Communist system, he pioneered a capitalist network that would save the district’s architectural heritage at the same time as maintaining its community life so that it would not become a “living museum” like Venice or Old San Juan. A consummate politician, he combined a deft personal touch with the poorest residents while navigating the high corridors of government and hobnobbing with Fidel Castro. Although he has stepped back from direct power in the last couple of years following a serious illness, he is still regularly loaded with international honors, as both Cubans and foreigners—even Miami exiles—fall over themselves to pile him with praise.

“Eusebio Leal is a legendary figure in the preservation world,” says Joshua David, president of the World Monuments Fund in New York, who visited Havana for a workshop on architectural restoration in February 2017. “He pioneered innovative ways to fund restoration in Old Havana, which at the same time supported social programs like health clinics and old age homes.” “He’s an incredibly complex, brilliant man,” declares Gregory Biniowsky, a left-wing Canadian lawyer who has worked in Havana since 1995 and has dealt with Leal and his Office of the Historian (OHC) regularly. “He’s the best of the revolution.” Leal’s own workers are intensely loyal. “He inspires everyone,” says Mariela Mulet, the chief of the Prado Investment Group working on the Capitol. “He saved Old Havana though his own willpower. There won’t be another one like him in a long time.” On the street, the support is even more effusive: “Leal is the only person who Cubans would erect a monument to while he is still alive,” declares Alian Alera, a young librero, or bookseller. “When I was a boy, I was there when he personally came and presented my father with his book-selling license.” “Without Leal, Havana would be nothing like what it is today,” sums up the American historian Nancy Stout, who worked with his office on several books. “A lot of Cubans would do anything for him.”

The original article: : https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/man-who-saved-havana-180968735/#2rcuoRIt648z7XX9.99

Plaza Vieja,  under revival, 2011

Plaza Vieja 2018

But still enough work to do, especially in Central Havana

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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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