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 25, 2015 at 5:59 pm
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    This is the first article I’ve read to mention what is about to happen in Cuba if it is to be liberalized. Remember the grab up for take in Russia when Soviet Union fell apart. You might think many ex-patriots in USA, especially in the state of Florida, consider themselves owners of buildings, hotels, lands and rights to exploit resources. Beware of things to come in beautiful Cuba which is as always the pray of the greedy.

    Reply
    • March 30, 2015 at 9:45 pm
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      I don’t believe in private anything, just look around you, does nature charge for sunlight, the wind, the dirt, the air?????

      Reply
  • March 25, 2015 at 9:56 pm
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    I think the folks that have been in Miami for all these years have no claims. I do know of some families in Miramar and Vedado where 90% of the relatives came to the states. Their relations still live in the family homes. As for the big land holders, the King Ranch and corporations like that they will find it ahrd to make claims on land they paid under valued taxes on

    Reply
    • March 30, 2015 at 11:53 am
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      The “under valued taxes” excuse for seizing property and not paying fair compensation is a thin veil stretched to cover a far greater number of seized properties. Consider the case of Julio Lobo, who built up the largest sugar industry in Cuba. Far from being a corrupt or crooked capitalist, Che Guevara judged Lobo to have been scrupulously honest and even offered him a position in the new sugar ministry. Lobo graciously asked for time to consider the offer and then quickly left the county. His assets then included 14 sugar mills, over 300,00 acres of land, a bank, and an insurance company. The Revolution seized all of it, without compensation, along with his extensive art collection.

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      • March 30, 2015 at 9:43 pm
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        I just wish that the people of the United States stake claims to what they rightfully own like the electric dams, municipal water and sewage systems, the freeways and all the tax payer paid government land and properties like US postal service buildings, public schools, universities, etc…

        Reply
  • March 27, 2015 at 10:08 pm
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    The Hotel Habana Libre was Fidel Castro’s headquarters after “The Revolution!” I also stayed there back in the mid to late 80s or early 90s when I made my first {unfortunately faded} trip to this island nation.

    Reply
  • March 30, 2015 at 11:33 am
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    An excellent report, Dmitiri! You correctly identified the original owners of the Havana Hilton hotel, and put to rest the lie that Castro only nationalized US owned properties. The Revolution also took property from Cuban citizens, including the Havana Hilton which was owned by the Cuban Food Industry Workers’ Union.

    Contrary to gossip, Paris Hilton was not in Cuba to negotiate the ownership of the Habana Libre hotel.

    Ultimately, the lawful ownership of the hotel and countless other properties seized by the Revolution will have to be sorted out, if the government of Cuba is serious about “normalizing” relations with the US and the rest of the world.

    Reply
  • August 18, 2015 at 11:19 am
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    Conrad Hilton & his sons Barron & Nicky came to Havana to open the hotel. He delivered the opening speech in perfect Spanish saying in most cases a worker works for employers but here the managers work for the employees. Hilton always wanted his employees to be stockholders in his company and he believed this to be a powerful tool in the fight against Marxism which he loathed. This building was the tallest structure of it’s kind in Latin America in 1958. My Cuban parents used to love the place.when they were dating and would hang out there. Fidel Castro lived in the penthouse for many months after he came to power and never really left. Hilton died in 1979 leaving 95% of his 300 million dollar fortune to a charity called the Conrad N Hilton Foundation which still exists today. RIP Sir.

    Reply
  • March 11, 2017 at 10:22 am
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    Prior to 1959, the La Habana Hilton was majority owned by the Cuban Federation of Gastronomic Food Workers, not the Hilton Corporation.

    Reply

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