Enguayabera, Oxygen for Alamar / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The shop for Artex objects is one of the few areas of the complex that is already up and running. (14ymedio)
The shop for Artex objects is one of the few areas of the complex that is already up and running. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 9 January 2015 — A neighborhood without a church, cemetery or cultural center. That was Alamar in East Havana until late last year, when the Enguayabera recreational complex opened. A mass of concrete that for decades was an abandoned ruin, now seeks to offer the more than 100,000 people in the area a different option to boredom and alcohol.

The district’s residents are delighted with the new place, although many of its areas are not yet up and running. Since the nineties the hall, which was built to house a factory making guayabera shirts, had been converted into a public toilet and garbage dump. “The rats were driving us crazy,” said a neighbor whose ground floor apartment was affected by the abandoned factory.

Now, the old textile factory located on 162nd Street is newly painted and trucks come and go hauling away the trash. At the entrance, some photographs show the deterioration that overcame the building during the “Special Period” – after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its subsidies to Cuba – when the factory was forced to stop production and send its workers home.

Enguayabera is trying to emulate the popular Cuban Art Factory* in Havana’s Plaza district but, unlike that center, it will be administered entirely by state entities. The place has four cinemas with a capacity of 40 seats, a small theater, and party space where the whole complex was opened on 29 December with a concert by Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco.

For now, the literary café, ice cream shops and the shops operated by Artex and the Cuban Fund of Cultural Assets attract the most people during the day. Although the wifi area trumps everything atthis point, as an alternative for those who, until recently, had to travel to the Pan American Village or wifi zones in more central parts of Havana in order to connect.

The space also has a playground and three inflatable parks, but the huge puppets that make up the latter were not inflated this week, to the frustration of the children and their parents who arrived, excited by television reports about the new attractions. The sense of a rushed opening permeates the place, but does not diminish the enthusiasm of many.

With two teenagers, Yusmila has lived in the area since she was a child and commented to this newspaper about her relief, now that her family will have recreational opportunities so close to home. “I don’t let them go into Havana after six in the evening and they were really bored at home,” said the woman, for whom “the ability to go to the movies 200 yards from here is a blessing.”

However, others are more skeptical about the cultural offerings promoted by Enguayabera. A young taxi driver who operates on the route between Havana’s Central Park and Alamar commented on this. As a self-employed worker, it seems excessive to him to have “four movie theaters, in a time when people have everything at home with the weekly packet.”

The man also recognizes that the new cultural center will affect him directly because, as he confesses, “all those who will now entertain themselves in Alamar are customers I will lose because they won’t need to go here and there to get to a disco or a movie theater.”

Eusebio Mitjans has lived for 35 years in the neighborhood that was supposed to be the home of the “New Man,” but which ended up becoming a dysfunctional bedroom city filled with prefabricated blocks. He spent dozens of hours in voluntary work on the construction of the guayabera factory during the eighties, and now says he feels “satisfied” because the site is being renovated for young people.

Sitting with Mitjans on Thursday in the site’s literary café was his 20-year-old niece. The young woman asked the waitress if there was a program yet for the authors who would be presenting their works. But the clerk just shrugged her shoulders and didn’t answer. “In Alamar there are more writers than buildings, and now all they need is to publish their books,” said the young woman.

All around her is the glittering appearance of the new. The nightmare of the parishioners is that one bad day it will all collapse into ruins, as happened once already to the guayabera factory.

*Translator’s note: See articles here, from The Havana Times, and here from the Washington Post.