14ymedio, Frank Abel García, Havana, 3 November 2019 — The last remodeling of Havana Boulevard, located in the initial section of San Rafael Street, comes with the reopening of some spaces administered by the State. After years of complete abandonment, this old commercial area begins to revive thanks to the improvement plan put in place to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Cuban capital.
Taking a walk on the popular Boulevard is no longer an unpleasant experience. Although it has not recovered its former splendor and numerous premises are still closed during the work of remodeling, that part of Centro Habana is becoming attractive and offers some surprises at affordable prices.
Entering the Paseo del Prado on Boulevard 66, where you can enjoy works of renowned artists for a price much lower than the scandalous rates charged at tourist places in Old Havana. La Calesa ice cream shop is proud of its four flavors of ice cream (condensed milk, strawberry, vanilla and butter). It can be said that the prices here are proportional to the quality of the service provided. I wasn’t able to enter the legendary ice cream shop on Boulevard El Arlequín, because a truck from Matilda, its supplier, was unloading its merchandise and was blocking the entrance.
Nautilus Hamburgers has opened with a varied menu. The establishments that attract the most customers are El Café Cubita, the restaurant Almirante specializing in Spanish food, the Bazar Francés cafeteria and the Boulevard cafe. It is striking that none of these are operated under the newly authorized cooperative structure. They are state-owned and according to the clerk at the door of the French Bazaar. Before the almost provocative question of whether the establishment was private, he replied: “No. This is State run,” he replied and kindly invited us in.
Although there is no doubt that all this represents a competition for private cafes and restaurants, tthere are more than a few customers who out of preference or experience continue to seek out private businesses. A girl who was having a snack in one of these private cafes commented: “I like it better here, I have been eating here for a long time, and I prefer it to the one across the street, which is state owned.” One of the employees of the same cafes added: “We thought that so many new and cheap places were going to affect sales, but our sales still sell the same.”
The old Duplex and Rex cinemas, inaugurated 81 years ago, were emblematic for Havanans in the mid-twentieth century, but already in the ’80s they became the cradle of disaster and rot. Now their theaters, for a long time lacking seats or stages, house a private business, dedicated to lit ads. It has not been possible to remove the musty smell from the pores of its walls.
But turning every corner of the brand new Boulevard, the dream of restoration disappears and you trip over the usual dirt of the capital. “Yes, they have repaired the most visible part, but the rest remains the same; garbage is not collected, and the buildings are getting worse and worse,” says a neighbor.
Fin de Siglo, another of the historic sites of the Boulevard, is currently in what seems to be under deep repairs. After going through the humiliation of becoming a bazaar of street vendors, the once luxurious store, one of the first in Cuba with escalators, shows signs of wanting to to be resurrected. Along the street benches have been placed that are used mainly by those who want to connect to the Wi-Fi zone. Several markets of the PanAmerican chain have a very picturesque aspect, as if they were moving in the context of commercial competition, especially when compared to most of the underserved and deteriorated state stores anywhere in the country.
Finally, a series of establishments associated with the Cuban Fund of Cultural Property have a variety of offerings, among them GráfikaAmigo (decorative stationery), Ensamble (furniture and interior design) and Douglas y Lucas.
The litmus test of the renewed Boulevard is precisely the audience to which it reopens. The boys walk on the benches and in the Pan-American store the employees are more worried about watching that nothing is stolen than in selling. Although there are baskets for trash (insufficient), on the floor you can see soda cans, papers, cigarette butts and other trash.
Almost all the provincial capitals have enabled some type of pedestrian promenade in the most central part of the city in the style of Havana Boulevard. They are also dominated by the state sector and, as in San Rafael Street, there are concentrated efforts by the Government to create the illusion of a prosperity that is not reflected in the rest of the country.
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