Galiano Street / Rafael León Rodríguez


It extends straight between Reina Street and the Havana Malecon. I remember it from my childhood with its large and polished doorways, with its beautiful display windows of clothing stores, jewelry stores, toy shops and establishments of all kinds. There were several important intersections with other streets also engaged in trade and services in the center of the city with Zanja, San José, San Rafael, Neptuno, Virtudes and San Lázaro. La Plaza del Vapor, an ancient two-story building and a block area completely dedicated to retail stores selling hats, fabrics and textiles, signaled the beginning of Galiano as a commercial artery.

After being demolished at the beginning of the Revolution, with the pretext that they were going to build a residential building, the land was turned into a park. The most famous department store in Cuba, El Encanto, occupied one of the four corners of San Rafael, which it shared with the Flogar Store, La Moda furrier and the Ten Cent store.

After a fire caused by an act of sabotage, in the month of April 1961, the land occupied by El Encanto became another park. Two hotels are located in this major thoroughfare in the capital: the Lincoln and the Deauville.

Even a Catholic church shares space along Galiano between Animas and Virtudes: the Monserrate. The America apartment building with two movie theaters, and the Fin de Siglo and Epoca stores; glassware, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, banks, in short, one of the most important shopping streets of the city of Havana.

In Havana nights it was a pleasant to walk along Galiano, looking at the storefronts or windows, as they say here, under flashes of neon signs. At Christmas, the change of seasons, or just for entertainment, strolling through along Avenida de Italia, Galiano, was a party.

After half a century of Real Socialism everything changed. The lights and glare of Galiano are gone; apathy and chaos are enthroned on their sites as in the majority of the urban landscape of the capital. Now they are finalizing a capital restoration plan for this artery of the city. Paved roads, new lighting, projects to restore the water, sewer and gas; rejuvenated facades, and resuscitation of existing commerce.

But the main thing is still missing, the soul, which gives interest and real value to the property, movable and immovable: the owners. Those who are interested in maintaining, developing and advancing their businesses. They are the very essence of the market, and so, without any capitalist merchants there is no real interest in commerce.

Time will pass and, if small and medium private enterprises are not created, truly independent of the state, the Galiano recovery project will swell the list of failed experiments. It will not be alone there, after a few decades of doing the same scale of work on other commercial streets in Havana, such as Belascoaín and Monte, and, within a few years, everything was gone again. These experiences show that real changes that are necessary, not cosmetic ones, or we will continue on the dry wheel of absurdity.

14 May 2013