14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 23 February 2023 — The members of the Cuban Parliament who are elected on 26 March will not be able to avoid the sight of the ruin of the Hotel Saratoga, right opposite the Capitolio Nacional building. Habaneros, however, are already well accustomed to seeing the state of the building, which exploded on 6 May 2022, killing 47 people, and which today evokes a sickly-looking house of cards.
The top floor is the only one which remains intact, like a grotesque reminder of what the Saratoga used to be, surrounded as it is today by sheets of red zinc. But the hotel is barely the centre of gravity of the collapse: its neighbouring residential building, which features in some of the most dramatic photos of the disaster, continues to look like an empty dolls’ house.
A comparison between the first photographs of the building, taken just after the explosion, and the scene which is presented to any pedestrian today, shows that the building has been systematically ransacked, not only by its former residents but by criminals and random passers-by. Where there used to be a mounted picture frame, a piece of furniture or a kitchen appliance, now there is only a stark bare wall.
Various parts of the structure which survived the explosion have been removed by the construction workers, or have collapsed under their own weight. Nevertheless, the aura is not one of a reconstruction site, rather one of just another building which has been abandoned to its own fate.
The people who lived at Prado 609, an annex of the hotel, were rehoused in the precarious Havana street of Vives, between Carmen and Figuras. It’s been a double tragedy for them: not only have they lost their homes but the new ones given to them by the government not only lack any charm but were constructed from cast concrete in one of the most “troubled” areas of the capital.
“They have no plans yet about what they’re going to do with the Saratoga. They’re not going to demolish it completely, only what’s necessary to stabilise the structure. The timetable is for 8 to 10 months”, a resident of the area told 14ymedio in December.
The company that the government commissioned for the work is Almest, a property developer linked to the Armed Forces, and a hitherto unknown French company, although evidence suggests that it’s the construction company Bouygues, which has worked on the construction of 22 luxury hotels on the island.
If one thing is clear it is that the fate of the Saratoga is bound up with that of the neighbouring buildings, among which there is also a baptist church. It would seem that the Cuban government has not yet decided on the move that will resolve the problem of one of the most central blocks of Havana.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.