Tenement Buildings in Cuba’s No Man’s Land

Osmel Almaguer

Alamar apartment buildings.

HAVANA TIMES — Some two hundred meters from my house, in Alamar’s Zone 11, there are a group of buildings that, even though recently constructed, are in urgent need of repairs. For bureaucratic reasons, however, the appeals of its tenants have met only with negative replies.

The most serious problems are to be found in the ceilings of the apartments, most of which present major leaks.

According to Dolores, a 57-year-old housewife living in one of the most severely damaged apartments (located on the top floor), some of the tenants approached the Municipal Housing Office and were informed that the problem falls within the jurisdiction of the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces, or military), the institution that constructed those buildings.

The absurd situation took definitive shape, however, when the tenants approached the FAR and received a negative reply, owing to the fact that the majority of the former owners of the apartments, who were, in effect, military officers, exchanged ownership over those properties with civilians in housing swaps called Permutas. Now, these buildings no longer belong to the FAR. As such, no one will restore them. They are in a no man’s land.

Such repair efforts are incredibly expensive, particularly for the average Cuban making less than $20 a month, such that the option of having the tenants put the money together is off the table.

It is possible that the defects in these apartments were caused by the poor quality of the construction materials, as those who built the properties would sell large volumes of these materials (particularly sand and concrete mix) on a daily basis. I know this for a fact.

This type of misappropriation of resources is common at “modern” Cuban construction sites. We can assume it is caused by the shortage of construction materials. People buy these from construction workers, who are in turn in need of money.

The group of buildings I am referring to was built on a plot of land behind the once-attractive El Mirador, a market that, dilapidated and unimpressive in its product offer, appears to regard it devoid of envy. They took more than 10 years to construct these buildings, which is the same amount of time that has transpired since.

One thought on “Tenement Buildings in Cuba’s No Man’s Land

  • Tenement buildings built in urban centers in the former Soviet bloc countries during the latter years of the Soviet Union seem to have these same problems in common. It would seem that 30 years ago socialism as an economic system was more focused on the image of new construction than the quality. Likewise, socialism itself is big on rhetoric and seems to come up short on substance.

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