The Hotel International in Varadero will be Demolished / Ivan Garcia

00-620_HInter-620x330In the 1950’s there were two hotels out of their league: the Hotel National in Havana and the Hotel International in Varadero.  The first one is still standing in the heart of Vedado, the second one will be demolished.

This was just confirmed by Jorge Alvarez, Director of Center of Inspection and Environmental Control.  This institution is in charge of controlling, supervising and regulating the protection of the environment and the rational use of natural resources.  The cause?  The alarming coastal erosion discovered by the scientists and specialists who were given the task to visit and analyze almost six thousand kilometers of Cuban coast.

Although the authorities have chosen prudence and remaining silent, the conclusions are alarming. “The government realized that the protection of the coasts for an island like Cuba, long and narrow is a matter of national security”, said Alvarez recently.

The study showed that the rising ocean level could damage or wipe off the map around 122 small coastal towns, many beaches would be under water, drinking water sources would be lost and cultivated parcels unutilized.  It is possible that by the year 2050 the sea level will rise around 27 centimeters and some 85 centimeters by 2100.  It sounds small, but experts explain that this represents a penetration of salt water of up to two kilometers around low laying areas.

In October 2010, they were already talking about the probable demolition of the Hotel International.  A wave of rumors and conflicts were set off, inside and outside of the island.  Luanys Morales, spokesperson for Gran Caribe, the administrative group of the hotel said: “Is a shame that a rumor can influence the decision of many tourists who have called, alarmed by the news.  The Hotel will not be demolished and it is all part of a fallacy invented to grab headlines by people who don’t want what’s good for our island and their time spewing venom in their informal blogs.”

One month later this was corrected, supposedly officially, by a statement made by the Cuban Section of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, signed by their president, the architect Jose E. Fornes, corroborating the rumors about the intentions to demolish the Hotel International in Varadero and the Cabins of the Sun (Cabañas del Sol), both places considered “part of the Cuban and Caribbean modern patrimony,” which marked a milestone in Cuban architecture, due to their advanced design and visual integration between the landscape and the sea.

In an internet forum, Armando Fernandez said “Yes, they will demolish it. And not only the International which is an emblematic hotel of Varadero, but the cabins as well, which in their time represented a national prize of architecture. They made the decision without consulting anyone. I agree that there are important investments that must be made, but not at the expense of a symbol of national identity.”

Around the same time, Teresa, retired, confessed, “I felt a mixture of sadness and indignation when I heard that they were going to demolish the International.  I was born in Matanzas and before the revolution, when summer came, my parents would rent a house in Varadero. They loved going to the hotel cabaret and the kids would eat ice cream in the cafeteria.  Back then a working family like mine could do those luxury things.”

International Hotel in Varadero was inaugurated on December 24, 1950 in the city of Cardenas, Matanzas.  Because of its architectural style it was considered the “brother” of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, opened in 1954.  Until the mid-80’s, when Fidel Castro decided to develop tourism as one of the most important sources of hard currency, the International Hotel was the tourists’ favorite.

Designed by the Cuban architect Ricardo Galbis, 300 workers took part in its construction.  Ninety percent of the materials used were imported from the United States.  Its cost was over three and half million pesos, which at that time was valued the same as the dollar.  It consisted of 163 rooms and a penthouse.  In the lobby, there was mural with an ocean theme, a work by the Spanish painter Hipolito Hidalgo de Caviedes, who in 1937 exiled himself to Cuba.  Hidaldo returned to Spain in 1961 and passed away in 1994 in Madrid, the same city where he was born in 1902.

When the Hotel International was inaugurated Varadero already had 17 hotels,  among them the Kawama, Miramar, Torres, Playa Azul and Varadero, the oldest of all dating back to 1915.  But the hotel boom really started around 1990 with the construction of Melia Varadero, Sol Club Las Sirenas, Sol Palmeras, Brisas del Caribe and Meliá Las Américas.

In 1887, the year of the official founding of Varadero, if a Havana native wanted to swim in its blue and translucent waters he had to have time, patience and energy.  To travel to Varadero, he would have to take a train to Cardenas and then from cross to the beach on foot, in a horse-drawn carriage or “carreton” or in a schooner.

Today, the trip of 130 kilometers between Havana and the famous beach resort is along a wide highway which by car or bus takes a little more than an hour.  Varadero is still the most popular tourist destination of sun and beach in Cuba.  It currently receives more than a million tourist visitors annually and it contributes around 30% of the tourist sector earnings.

Three years ago it was speculated that behind the Hotel International demolition was perhaps the discovery of oil reserves in the area or the construction of new golf resorts.  However, the grave damage done to the environment was the reason.  I hope there is time to save the eroded Cuban coasts.

Ivan Garcia

Picture Taken from Cubazul.

Translated by LYD