Building Collapses and Shelters in Cuba

Street in Havana blocked by the collapse of a building. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Blanco. Montreal, 5 April 2018 — Within a month of assuming my position as mayor of the Plaza of the Revolution municipality in the City of Havana, in 1986, there was a partial collapse in one of the old buildings of the famous neighborhood of El Vedado. Several people were injured, although luckily no one lost their life.

We went to the site to talk to those affected and to try to convince them to go to one of our shelters in the city. In the municipality we had four, but all were full and so we wanted to assign people to space in another municipality. The unanimous answer was NO. For various reasons.

People knew that those who went to shelters were stranded there and lost their connection with the neighborhood in which many of them had lived all their lives, as well as the whole family’s work, transport and schools.

The next day I took on the task of touring our shelters, and the feeling of helplessness in the face of one of the most pressing problems of the country, housing, entered my soul like a major cancer. When I arrived at the first shelter, the people who were there approached me asking what were the chances, at the beginning of the newly inaugurated Government, for them to obtain a house with a minimum of amenities, either through a microbrigade (the work centers organized brigades to build houses with the objective of satisfying the demand of their own workers), or some other method. They were willing to repair housing by their own means.

One of the first people in a shelter who approached me told me that his house had collapsed and that for 19 years he had been in that shelter waiting for a solution. He asked me: What can you tell me about this? That question has been one of the most difficult I have ever heard, including  during my studies at the University.

Unfortunately at that time not all work centers were able to raise a microbrigade. The reasons were several, sometimes it was simply due to the lack of construction materials and often the plans for the construction of new homes, implemented by the Government, for one reason or another were not met.

At the same time, the demand for housing was growing. The quality of life in the shelters was terrible, sometimes the cubicles were divided only by a sheet, some were for men and others for women with children, which implied the division of the family home with disastrous results. There were others in which one part or wing was for men and one for women, and there was no family life there either. To that was added the difficulty of having common bathrooms and kitchens.

The saddest thing about this story which I had to experience personally and which happened during the triennium 1986 – 1989, is that this problem still has not been solved. Far from it, it has worsened, even though demand has decreased, as a result of the emigration of Cubans, even though over two million individuals, that is, one fifth of Cuba’s total population, has left the country.

Every year fewer houses are built and, until only a couple of years ago, if the family emigrated, they lost the housing that the government supposedly had to grant to other people in need. However, this housing was not always delivered to the most needy people, but many times its allocation was determined by corruption, cronyism, or “political security,” which involved the so-called “frozen zones,” where only those who are not considered political dissidents are allowed to live.

Housing is and has been to this day, one of the greatest difficulties that the Cuban people have faced. After 60 years this government does not seem to have found any solution to this problem.


Editor’s Note: this text was originally published in Viceversa Magazine and is reproduced here with the authorization of the author. Mario Blanco was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1949, although as of 1997 he has lived in Montreal, Canada. He is a naval engineer and between 1986 and 1989 he held the position of President of the People’s Power of the Plaza of the Revolution municipality, in Havana.

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