A One-Eyed Eusebio Leal Watches Over Old Havana’s Decline
The mural which has decorated for years the empty space left by a building collapse in Calle Teniente Rey (almost on the corner of Monserrate and next to the paladar [private restaurant] Kilómetro Cero) has deteriorated in a very short time. The portrait of the ’Historian of the City’, Eusebio Leal — with its caption “My footsteps still look after your streets, Havana my heart, because I have not left you. I will live with you forever” — was still bright and colourful barely only a year ago.
These days, a one-eyed Leal — one-eyed because of the peeling paint — appears to give passers-by a grimace of disgust.
Eusebio Leal was the grand author of the restoration of Old Havana — in large part with the help of public funds from other countries such as Spain — and he continued the work of Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, as head of the Office of Historiography.
Under his command, that state organisation became a powerful instrument for the promotion of culture and tourism. In his charge, for example, he had the company Habaguanex, which managed some 300 tourist sites, including restaurants, shops, markets, cafes and accommodation (totalling 546 rooms). Among these, of course, was the unfortunate Hotel Saratoga, destroyed by an explosion on 6 May 2022.
All the glory ended in 2016, when the Ministry for Armed Forces put Habaguanex under the charge of the Gaviota group, which belongs to the all-powerful Grupo de Administración Empersarial (Gaesa) [Management Administration Group], at that time led by Raúl Castro’s ex son-in-law, the late Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja.
From that moment on, everything in the historic centre of the capital went into decline — a district where many inhabitants have felt themselves orphaned by the death, on 31 July 2020, of the historian who delivered to them, and on time, a number of benefits, such as improved primary school meals.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso