A Balcony Falls Onto a Cafe in Vedado, Part of a Wave of Recent Collapses

Taking advantage of several legal loopholes, some small business owners are converting residential apartments into cafes and mini-factories / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 21 June 2024 — At 11:00 PM Thursday night, a balcony collapsed onto El Tablazo, a cafe located on First Street, between C and D streets, in Havana’s Vedado district. The incident, part of a wave of collapses that is now impacting even one of the capital’s most solidly-built neighborhoods, occurred at a time when the building was fully occupied. Three adults were injured in the collapse.

Stacks of marble slabs and bags of cement, stored on a second-floor balcony by a construction crew, led to the collapse. Independent journalist Julio Aleaga, a resident of the property, reported that recent repairs to the building, which he claims were not executed properly, contributed the structural failure.

The accident was reported on the Facebook page of the Revolution Plaza Municipal Assembly. Two floors of both this building and its neighbor, which are located very close to the shoreline, were recently repaired – at least superficially – by the owners of the ground-floor cafes Chucherías, El Tablazo and 3D, the latter owned by the comedian Roberto Riverón, known as “Robertico.”

14ymedio was also able to confirm the presence of a large construction crew working throughout the entire block / 14ymedio

For Aleaga, the collapse was yet another indication of how new business ventures are operating on the island. Taking advantage of a series of legal loopholes, he believes private owners of small businesses are converting residential apartments into cafes or mini-factories.

The owners of these businesses have no other choice, explains Aleaga, than to carry out these conversions with heavy tools. “Instead of using a hammer and chisel, they use sledgehammers, which affect the structure of the building. And since no one is overseeing these projects, everyone does what he wants,” he says.

That is what happened with the balcony, which — according to Aleaga — fell not only because of the excess weight but also because of “vibrations and pounding that rattled the structure.”

The balcony fell not only because of excess weight but also because of vibrations and pounding that rattled the structure

The situation is made worse in buildings like the one on First Street due to its proximity to the sea, which has a corrosive influence on the exterior walls. The property recently benefited from a cosmetic resurfacing, at least on the façade.

The buildings on First Street are located near the Meliá Cohiba hotel and other businesses catering to tourists, so it is quite possible that there were foreigners in one of the cafes on Thursday night. Chucherías, El Tablazo and 3D are part of a cafe circuit considered fashionable by Havana residents. Due to their popularity, these businesses generate a lot of noise, which impacts local residents.

14ymedio was also able to confirm the presence of a large construction crew throughout the entire block, especially at the corner of First and C streets. Workers have been tossing trash and construction debris into a large container located far from the construction site.

The fact that Havana is falling apart will not come as news to any of its residents. On Monday, two days before the accident in Vedado, there was a partial collapse at 423 Monte Street, between Ángeles and Águila streets, which injured one young woman. The collapse of the neighboring building in 2021 killed one man.

In December 2021, 14ymedio interviewed several people living nearby and talked with the residents of 425, 427 and 429 Monte Street, at least one of whom expressed safety concerns. “Pieces of the my dining room ceiling have been falling down. Everything shakes. If feels like we are in an earthquake,” he said. “The covered entry outside is exposed to the sky. The whole thing is falling apart.”

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