Builder in Chief / Luis Felipe Rojas

I did not want to start the New Year like this but Fidel Castro is still present in our lives. That’s just how screwed we are and I fear that will be the case for a long time, even after his demise.

It was nearly the end of 2011 when the Ministry of Construction (MICON) — surely at the suggestion of Machado Ventura — decided to give out a special award dedicated to the “lifetime achievement” of the former basketball player from the College of Belen (Fidel Castro).

They handed him a diploma which was luxuriously laminated and wrapped in anti-reflection plastic, a floral arrangement, and a message confirming that all Cubans appreciate what he has achieved for us. Ha! A bit of cockiness which is permitted to the head honcho from time to time.

With this new prize to Fidel Castro, I ask myself where do we put the information of the disturbed minister of construction — Homero Crab — about the disastrous situation of nearly 70% of the bridges in the country. The old central highway inaugurated during the first half of the past century only receives patches and quick repairs. Many rural schools, which consist of coarse Giron-style construction and which were once the pride of Cuban style socialism are being remodeled as semi-open penitentiaries.

Each week, the provincial newspapers publish poor photo reports of the bad state of the roads in the so-called “interior of the country. As for Cuban television, they barely have any destination options left to present on the screen as tourist post cards. Architecturally speaking, the island is falling to pieces.

But since the prize was awarded because of lifetime achievement, it would be a good idea to refresh our memories. The so-called Pastorita neighborhoods, in an allusion to Pastorita Nunez, there national proponent, are now just hodge-podges of steel and rubble which have not fallen down on their users thanks to a miracle. Examples are found in Santiago de Cuba and in Guantanamo. I have lived in them, on more than one occasion.

The inheritance which we received from European and North-American architecture was destroyed by the blow of a wrecking ball, under the orders of the Builder-in-Chief. If not him, then who is to blame for the exile of the graduates of the best school of architecture of the University of Havana? To whom do we owe the national exchange for the modest American cabins for the monster of the low-cost self-built houses? Before handing out apartments like bird cages during the 70’s, was there another way to build a home if not by one’s own effort?

In just two decades, we have gone from the solid masonry and steel houses to the suffocating plastic habitat, built from the residues of Venezuelan oil. Unless the award aims to make a joke of the former Cuban president, there is no other option but to see him as a monument, in the same flattering way a slave sees his slave master.

Translated by Raul G.

3 January 2012