Who Owns Cuba’s Habana Libre Hotel?

Dmitri Prieto Samsónov

Paris Hilton and Fidel Castro Díaz-Balartin Havana. Photo: AP

HAVANA TIMES — The recent publication of a photo were Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart and Paris Hilton appear together (within the context of the normalization of intergovernmental relations between the United States and Cuba) prompted speculation about the return of the Hilton hotel chain to Cuba in the near future.

The Habana Libre hotel, a renowned Vedado establishment where the bearded revolutionaries stayed when they arrived in Havana in January of 1959, was known as the Havana Hilton at the time. It is one of the first hotels the company operated outside the United States.

Many people today may be thinking that the former owners of this establishment are interested in reclaiming it.

But there’s a problem:

The Habana Libre hotel. Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

The Hilton corportaiton was not the owner of today’s Habana Libre hotel – it only managed it. The Havana Hilton was built with the money from the retirement savings of the Cuban Food Industry Workers’ Union. The money wasn’t stolen from those savings accounts: it was a legal business deal through which the union invested the money from the workers’ retirement quotas to build the hotel. Once in operation, as the property of the union, the establishment would generate more money for their pensions, under a management contract signed by the union and Hilton.

As such, the post-insurrectional State didn’t take the hotel from the “Americans” – it took it away from the Cuban union.

This places the alleged relationship between the Hilton company and Cuban government before a legal dilemma: the company could well claim that the legitimate owners of the property before its nationalization is not the State but the trade union that signed the contract to begin hotel operations – the union or its legal successors.

A Food Industry, Trade and Services Union that is part of the Cuban Workers’ Association (CTC) has in fact existed in Cuba for many years. It is probably the legal successor of the entity that signed the contract with Hilton before 1959.

This may appear as a tiny detail within the intricate web of difficulties surrounding the “normalization” of inter-State relations between Cuba and the United Sates, but I believe it is a good point of departure to being debating about the potential role of worker organizations and the defense of the rights of Cuban working people, in the face of the repercussions of this “normalization” process.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

9 thoughts on “Who Owns Cuba’s Habana Libre Hotel?

  • March 11, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Prior to 1959, the La Habana Hilton was majority owned by the Cuban Federation of Gastronomic Food Workers, not the Hilton Corporation.

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