Havana’s Malecon: “If it becomes a wall, what will become of our view?”

With their feet dangling, the young people laugh, chat, take selfies, while listening to music on their cellphones. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havanan, 30 July 2020 — The group, of more or less 8 or 9 young people, was sitting this on the wall of the Havana’s Malecon Wednesday afternoon, at a quarter to six in the afternoon. With their feet dangling towards the sea, they laugh, chat, take selfies while listening to music on their cell phones.

“We just left Coppelia and came here to sit, for us young people there are not many options, our walks almost always end here.”

“What do you think of the idea of a higher Malecon, as proposed by the authorities, without the possibility of seeing the sea?”

One of the boys responds with another question: “Have you never heard that this is the ‘sofa’ of the Cubans?”

“If it were higher so that one cannot even sit down would not be the same, it would cease to be entertainment for us. I understand that it would serve as protection for many families who live here facing the sea, but when things get big, nothing stops the flooding. Nothing,” says Lorena Fonseca, another of the young women in the group speaking to 14ymedio while pointing to some cans floating in water and others embedded in the reef.

“Look, this shows it too. People don’t take care of anything, you should also write about that, there are very filthy people who don’t understand that the sea has to be taken care of,” she said.

Marcelino Piedra Mesa, has lived in 751 Marina for 50 years and talks about the sea as if it were a person. (14ymedio)

The news that the height of the wall of the Havana Malecon could be raised during the restoration process carried out by the city government together with the Office of the Historian made the news a couple of years ago. The controversy has not stopped and concern is reborn after the issuance of several reports on the works and with the visible presence of heavy machinery in some sections.

The architect Perla Rosales commented to EFE that the historian Eusebio Leal himself had a “personal interest” in the rescue of the Malecón, “because it is the face of Havana.” However, architects and citizens complain about the lack of transparency with which the works have been approached.

“We need, we deserve and they owe us complete information on this project so important for our city and its citizens,” denounces the architect Abel Tablada, who shared a report from the German chain Deutsche Welle about the works on his Facebook wall.

Leaning against a little wall that he has built at the door of the house is Marcelino Piedra Mesa, about 70 years old. He has lived at 751 Marina for 50 years and talks about the sea as if it were a person. “When it says ‘to look for him,’ he goes to San Lázaro,” he insists, at the same time adjusting a handkerchief that covers his mouth and nose.

He says that in the time he has lived there, the water has “really” entered twice. “From the sea,” the man clarifies, “because when it rains …,” and he stretches out both hands in front of him, like one who wants to caress a large circle. “I believe that even if they raise it, it will not be possible to prevent him from entering. Maybe stop some, but not completely,” he suspects.

“The first entry of the sea that I remember was in 2005. Previously it was flooded, but due to rain, problems with the sewers and the sewers that do not work well. The other was in 2017… Then he really came in hard, he took everything, he left me nothing, he cleaned me out completely,” recalls Piedra, who moved to that house in the 70s.

The Malecon is one of the biggest attractions in Havana for tourists, but also for residents. (14ymedio)

“There are areas that can hold up a bit, but there are others where, the height of the wall, it does not allow to go one centimeter higher. Previously that wall was a little higher, but since some work was done a few years ago, they cut off the whole top and then put it back again. At that time it was lowered about 25 centimeters. I remember that before I was jumping to sit on it, now I don’t have to jump,” he said.

The intention to raise the height of the wall is part of a State “plan” to “confront” climate change, and has been named Tarea Vida (Life Task). The works began, the authorities announced, in 2020 and with them the rehabilitation of the Havana seawall is intended “to avoid coastal flooding, both maritime and rainwater.”

The director of the Hydraulic Research Center of the  José Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havana (known as CUJAE), Yoermes González, explained to the official press that this action includes four stages and is part of a project that they have been developing for about 30 years. González pointed out that this year, according to the project, they will begin with the part that involves “a change in the geometry of the wall” and its elevation “as far as the architecture allows,” without specifying a specific height.

The architect Universo García Lorenzo believes that there have been “problems” when it comes to communicating the project and quotes the journalist and professor Raúl Garcés Corra, who said: “If we want it as a public good we have to involve the whole of society in the management of the communication process.”

“I think that precisely that vision, identified and cautioned by our researchers, of communicating, socializing and involving society as a whole has been lacking, not in the result, but in the gestation and monitoring of the process,” García Lorenzo pointed out.

The most famous seafront avenue in Cuba, with its wide sidewalk and its eight kilometers of wall that go from Prado to the Almendares River, the Malecon is one of the most seductive attractions of the city for both Cubans and foreign visitors.

The Malecón. (14ymedio)

The debate on these works transcends social networks and, on the wall of the Malecon itself, neighbors and visitors dispute the reason for the idea of raising the wall.

“I think you could use yaquis so that the waves break a little earlier and not against the wall which, under no circumstances, can disappear as a coastline. If it becomes a wall, what will become of our view… so beautiful and characteristic of the city? I can’t even imagine it,” says a visitor to the Malecon, who resides in the Diez de Octubre municipality.

A neighbor who was extending a hose from his house to a water truck in the middle of the sidewalk replied: “You can see that the water does not enter your house above two meters high,” he says, before sucking on a hose to prime an engine that brings water from the street to his home.

“I don’t think that is for the entire area, maybe it is only in the area that is most affected by the floods. I think that would be good, along the entire Malecon it would be a crime. It is of the most beautiful things that Havana has,” says one of the regular fishermen on the corner of 25th, in front of the Hola Ola recreational center.

The man asks his fishing partner: “Let’s see my friend, what do you like the most about Havana?” And his colleague responds, before throwing the rod again: “That it has the sea.”


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