Old Havana rebuilt, but ordinary Cubans don’t benefit

Eusebio Leal Spengler, the official historian of Havana has rebuilt or refurbished more than 300 buildings in Old Havana, but for tourists, not ordinary Cubans.

Excerpts from the International Herald article, by correspondent James C. McKinley Jr. , it’s an honest account of the program.

“…While much of Cuba’s infrastructure has crumbled and its economy has limped along, he has rebuilt and refurbished more than 300 landmark buildings in Old Havana, from fortresses built in the colonial days to famous nightspots and hotels of the city’s swinging era just before the Cuban Revolution.

Tourists throng the Plaza de la Catedral, with its 259-year-old cathedral, and wander up Calle Obispo, a street lined with luxury shops, to the Floridita, the plush bar where Ernest Hemingway drank mojitos and daiquiris.

Yet the renovation has only gone so far, and tens of thousands of people are still trapped in squalid buildings just blocks from the refurbished zones, giving rise to grumblings among some residents that the renovation amounts to a Potemkin village for visitors.

They point out that few Cubans can afford the $7 drinks at the Floridita and that by law Cubans cannot stay in the restored hotels, even if they could afford the $150-a-night rates.

“The reconstruction doesn’t have anything to do with the state system we live in,” said Yadira Amorós, a 30-year-old single mother who was using a plumber’s wrench in an effort to get water flowing to her dingy apartment a block from Calle Obispo. “None of this benefits us.”

The United Nations has praised Leal’s development model and named the zone a World Heritage Site. Among the hotels are the Ambos Mundos, where Hemingway used to write in a corner room, and the Santa Isabel, a small colonial inn favored by former President Jimmy Carter and Jack Nicholson, the actor, when they come to town.

Leal goes on to explain Cuba’s two-tiered economy, with no mention of the embargo.

Yeisi Rodríguez, a nurse who grew up in the neighborhood, said the renovations had certainly improved the atmosphere. Yet she was still living in a partitioned part of her father’s apartment with her husband and a 3-year-old toddler.

Together they get by on state rations and about $20 in salary. She said she could not afford to shop at the stores along Calle Obispo where tourists go.

One reason for the continued poverty is that the workers in the hotels, museums, restaurants and hotels reap little of the tourist money flowing into the zone. All receive a state salary of $10 to $20 a month in Cuban pesos plus a bonus of $12 in hard currency, but most of the profits from the businesses go to the renovation efforts.

They are the lucky ones. Others hold down jobs and receive a salary only in Cuban pesos. Even with subsidized food, free health care and education, Cubans complain they cannot make ends meet and must resort to selling stolen goods or confidence schemes aimed at tourists.

“Everyone has to do something,” said a man who ran a state-owned grocery store for a $12 salary. “I sell cigars.”

Read the entire article here.

2 thoughts on “Old Havana rebuilt, but ordinary Cubans don’t benefit”

  1. Eusebio Leal is responsible for the sale of Cuba’s National Patrimony to the highest bidder. Just about EVERYTHING that tourists see in museums are very good forgeries.


    Rumor has it that the 25 karat diamond located on the floor of the “Salon de los Pasos Perdidos” in the Capitolio Nacional (which marked Kilometer 0 of the Carretera Central) was taken by Vilma Espin. The Cuban government claims the diamond is the Banco Central but the Banco Central claims they don’t have it. Where is the diamond? The one on display is a fake.


    Instead of praising Eusebio Leal, the United Nations should’ve taken him and the Cuban government to task. Those fortresses and buildings they refer to, which were “built in colonial days” were able to withstand over 450 years of extreme weather conditions and war. It took the castro brothers -and their robolution- less than 50 years to destroy them.

    By the way, Eusebio Leal’s son owns an “art gallery” in Spain. I give you three guesses as what is REALLY being sold there.

  2. Watch for Leal to claim, eventually, that he was only trying to preserve Cuba’s heritage, that he was never really “political,” and that he just went with the flow for the sake of “preserving history.” Assuming, of course, he doesn’t simply join his son in Spain and becomes adopted by the Spanish Left as a poor, persecuted “victim.”

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