Documenting Destruction in Havana, Cuba

According to the 2020 diagnosis of the Central Havana municipality, “Los Sitios” People’s Council has over 2800 residents waiting for a change of housing or transfer to a temporary shelter. Photos: Eliane Labarca.

Text and photos by Eliane Labarca (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – Los Sitios is a land in ruin, an octagon suffocating with over 30,000 people living there making it the People’s Council with the worst damage to its housing stock in Central Havana, the municipality with the greatest damage to its housing inventory in all of Cuba. In any case, Los Sitios is a microcosm of the national housing crisis. Another accident amidst the chaos.

The island’s failure to meet housing plans and the progressive deterioration of its housing stock have hurt Cubans’ constitutional right to a dignified home, for over 60 years. Both of these points have developed into an indicator of clear social inequality. With a deficit of approximately 900,000 homes, across the country, higher levels of precariety fall upon racialized, marginalized communities at risk, whose status drives them to occupy these spaces (to a great degree).

In 2021 alone, the Caribbean country completed 18,645 homes (state-led, subsidized or personal projects), according to an article published in Juventud Rebelde newspaper. This figure only corresponds to 42% of the work planned for that year. While production numbers fall, a growing number of Cubans find themselves forced to live in vulnerable areas such as Los Sitios. Lives hang among the ruins; lives that you can see here.

A group of young girls play on the top floor of the Figueras building, No. 106. Formerly a tobacco warehouse, today it gives shelter, as a refuge, to over 20 families waiting for their residential certificates.
Eloisa Hernandez, 88 years old, pensioner. Owner of a room in a communal building classified as “uninhabitable and irreparable.” This building has had the go-ahead to become a shelter since 1970, but it has yet to be done.
Esperanza Zamoa, 68 years old, retired and Eloisa’s daughter. Due to her mother’s old age, Esperanza prefers to deal with all of the issues linked to the family home. After many visits from the corresponding authorities, she received a response from the Municipal Housing Board in Central Havana, in December 2019. The letter reads that the “entity (…) doesn’t have availability to relocate her urgently as her case demands.”
David Valle, 32 years old, vet. Like Elosia and Esperanza, he is living in a house that also has the “uninhabitable and irreparable” classification, since 1971. A neigbour on Sitios Street, he shares the only room in the house with his mother and sister.
Vicente Diaz, 55 years old, gardener. He inherited a room in the building from his maternal grandmother. Since 2020, never-ending leaks and the threat of the roof collapsing have forced him to put all of the furniture on the kitchen/diner space. Like most residents in the area, Vicente doesn’t have the material resources needed to renovate the building.
In Los Sitios, most families don’t declare the real income of their households. In other cases, the amounts aren’t in keeping with the quality of life you see here. But financial support of a significant group of residents comes from their “everyday” hustle.
Claudia Rodriguez, 23 years old, bank worker. She inherited the apartment she lives in, after her grandmother passed away. Luckily, it wasn’t in such a bad technical state. But the place is small, damp and isn’t very well-ventilated.
Ana Belkis Gomez, 69 years old, housewife. She came to the Sitios communal home at no. 168 in 2001, after moving from the shelter she was staying at because of her delicate health situation, and that of her youngest son. The new house is just over 3m2 wide and 3m long.
In such a small space, Ana Belkis has beds for herself, her husband and her three children; as well as a stove and fridge. The bathroom has always been outside.
Carlos Becquer, a homeless man who has a mental disease.
Carlos is one of the “homeless” that dresses and eats thanks to the charity of neighbors in the area.
Solutions can’t be seen on the horizon for the general housing situation in Los Sitios. Many of the buildings fail to meet basic habitat regulations.

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One thought on “Documenting Destruction in Havana, Cuba

  • The achievements of the great revolution. Misery and more misery. The question I like to ask to those who still defending the dictatorship is. Are 63 of sacrifice k on ack of freedom, prohibitions, , hunger, and underdevelopment worth it? What exactly the Cuban ppl has obtained in exchange for the miserable life and a general aspect of hopelessness

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