14ymedio, Havana, March 29, 2021 — The cement shortage has not been an obstacle to the Cuban government’s plans to build a huge concrete flag in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The structure, some ten meters tall, is a replacement for the flag poles, badly damaged by saltwater, that once stood on the so-called Anti-Imperialist Platform.
“Rising on our Anti-imperialist Platform is this monumental work: our flag, ’that has never been mercenary,’ whose star shines more brightly now that it stands alone,” reads a statement from the contractor, the Construction and Maintenance Company (ECOM), published on its Facebook page.
The statement does not specify if an individual artist was responsible for the monument’s design or what its final dimensions might be.
The structure is being built at a time when the the price of cement is skyrocketing. Last week it was selling on the black market for more than 1,000 pesos a bag and has virtually disappeared from state-run stores, where it sells for 165 pesos.
“I saw this and kept thinking that it cannot be true. Using material for this… what’s the point? This photo is a bad joke,” reads one user’s tweet.
“Does this make any sense? While buildings in Old Havana are falling down,” writes another user on the same social media site.
Cuba is experiencing a severe economic crisis, which began before the Covid-19 pandemic, that experts describe as its worst in thirty years.
The Anti-Imperialist Platform was built in 2000 as part of Fidel Castro’s Battle of Ideas campaign, which demanded the United States return Elian Gonzalez. Sustained by the resources of his new Venezuelan ally, he also used it as an opportunity to tighten the ideological screws.
The platform was built in eighty days of uninterrupted work by 1,988 laborers, technicians, architects and engineers from various parts of the country. At the time, billions of dollars had begun flowing into the country from the government of Hugo Chavez, who was subsidizing the Cuban economy.
The Anti-Imperialist Platform has been the site of countless marches and demonstrations against the United States by Fidel Castro’s regime. After his brother Raul inherited power, the plaza became the site of concerts and artistic events. The reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States in December 2014 further diminished its political significance.
Over the years its proximity to the sea and the impact from hurricanes led to the installation’s decay. The flagpoles that supported the so-called sea of flags, installed in an attempt to obscure a brightly illuminated electronic billboard on the face of the embassy, had rapidly deteriorated.
In 2019 officials reported that, three years prior, waves and floods caused by Hurricane Irma had damaged all its facilities, including meeting and dressing rooms as well as the masts in the Forest of Flags.
Repairs were expected to be completed this year in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana but the economic crisis has delayed those plans. Instead, two one-story buildings are being built on the site to house meeting rooms and other spaces.
*Translator’s note: Installed by the then Bush administration, the ticker-style billboard flashed uncensored news stories to Cubans in its proximity.
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