Havana in Ruins

By Martin Guevara

HAVANA TIMES – When you think about the quality, richness, creativity, and progress that once characterized Havana, and then about its condition now, the evidence jumps out that there must have been a certain willingness to let it deteriorate, to present it as a ruin.

The idea that Havana of the Spanish colonizers and later of the native-born capitalists, added to those from the United States, should have been left to erode – not pulverized, destroyed, like it had been hit by a bomb or tons of dynamite. It should have been left to suffer the ruin brought about by the passing of millennia, as in Agrigento, site of ancient ruins, or the Parthenon or the Roman Forum, but with people living within, so that its degradation, the vacuum, the dirty and torn underwear of glamor, could be appreciated.

With the passing of time and knowledge of the psyche of some of the main leaders, we have a right to wonder if there was an express willingness to hasten such deterioration, spurred by a conscious or unconscious dislike on the part of Fidel Castro, due to his background as a “guajiro” – a Cuban peasant in Havana during his adolescent years as a student.

It’s a capital city that was always scornful of immigrants from the interior, still more so against those from the Oriente province, due to the historic competition whether Havana or Santiago de Cuba was more suited to house the capital city. Santiago, for example, because of the quarrel of the collective aesthetic sense with its classic refinement, was also not graced with new neighborhoods or attractive buildings. However, Santiago didn’t come close to suffering the extreme abandonment which the revolutionary apathy mercilessly turned on Havana.

It wasn’t exclusively the product of bureaucratic lethargy, socialist laziness or the economic blockade, since the exclusive Biltmore residential neighborhood, now Siboney, where the revolutionary leaders of highest rank and fewest scruples moved to, not only didn’t deteriorate, but has received increased care and services. It’s fitting to think that Camilo Cienfuegos wouldn’t have permitted it to arrive at such a level of degradation.

Otherwise, it’s impossible to understand such a successful attack on one of the most beautiful cities, an act that’s incomprehensible not only in the Caribbean but in all America, including the north and the southern cone.

Unprecedented, but not novel in the history of humanity, that a remote rancor that may have stemmed from the abuses of the past, on occasions led the sectors marginalized from opulence to take vengeance on the works of architectural art, be it indirectly. Like when Marx warned that the awakening industrial workers might resolve their differences with the bosses by assaulting the machines, instead of using them in their favor.

This dilapidation is being immortalized in black and white photographs that are presented as the beauty of decadence, like Richard Avedon’s photos of the US rednecks or those of the “garimpeiros”, the illegal Brazilian prospectors, in the photos of Sebastiao Salgado. The majority of these photographers are tourists or professionals – sympathizers of the revolution from a distance, who defend it at the top of their lungs in their countries, during the after-dinner conversation following a steak that contains a quantity of meat that ten numerous Cuban families won’t see or even imagine, over their entire lives.

I believe that even without sensing it very clearly, Fidel felt a great attraction for that beautiful and rich Capital city, an attraction as deep as the rancor he professed for it, due to the unrequited love he had received from it in the past.

More or less the same contradictory emotions he felt for the United States.

Photo: El Toque

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5 thoughts on “Havana in Ruins

  • 60 years ago, Cuba had more TVs per capita than the USA and was second in the world in private auto ownership. Cuba had a higher standard of living than France. It was the pearl of the Antilles, the Riviera of the Carribbean. Then Castro came to make things right, he gave us this socialist utopia, The workers paradise.

  • I am a Canadian citizen who visited Havana over eight years and fell in love of Havana city has everything that a visitor looking for such as very nice weather and peaches and palm trees. Also Havana city is a historic place for the old buildings which makes visitors to go there with their cameras to take pictures. The problem currently Cuba has is the blockade by the United States and the people are very poor and suffering the blockade.

  • I last visited La Habana three years ago and I have recently viewed several YouTube videos taken in January 2023.
    I could not believe how it has changed yet, yet again, for the worst.
    The terrible piles of rubbish everywhere, the broken and dangerous pavements and the terrible condition of the roads to mention just a few.
    I was thinking of another holiday this year but, unfortunately, your sad city is now out of my top ten destination – IT IS SO SAD !!! … !!!

  • Havana has such beautiful architecture-If you can imagine it 60 years ago–Now it is like an exquisite piece of pottery left in a bucket of water–It has melted to its present state–hh

  • A lost city In an exchange for what? What exactly the Cubans people obtained in exchange for so much misery and destruction? La junta Militar do not care about anything else that stay in power while the ppl are distracted by hours in line to buy two pieces of Chicken perhaps a package of hot dogs

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