Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — Last week, the results of the last survey conducted by new7wonders.com, a page owned by the Swiss foundation New Open World Corporation, were made known: Havana had been chosen one of the new seven “wonder” cities. While the Cuban press applauded the decision, people were surprised at the news, and many even maintain it insults the intelligence of Cubans.
Though it is true that there is no shortage of marvelous places in our capital (about to turn 500), Havana’s urban architecture threatens to disappear altogether owing to the almost ceaseless collapse of buildings.
A high percentage of people in Havana live in crowded quarters in tenements euphemistically referred to as ciudadelas (“citadels”). Thousands of people are living in precarious shelters, dreaming of one day having their own place to live.
We have working class neighborhoods whose architectural design consist of a monotonous repetition of rectangular buildings that mar the landscape, characterized by numerous invisible defects stemming from the generalized shoddiness with which they were built.
In numerous places, including much of the old town (declared “World Heritage”), there is no directly available drinking water. The city is full of streets fraught with pot-holes and bumps. Places where garbage piles up and sewage water gushes out from broken pipes abound.
Faced with such an uneven urban landscape, marked by stark contrasts, it is hard to believe we inhabit one of the seven wonders of the modern world. And there are other reasons behind the widespread impression that the said “choice” insults the intelligence of Cubans:
The media event organized by New7Wonders isn’t new. Earlier, in 2007, the foundation, headed by the Swiss Bernard Weber, took votes to put together its list of “seven architectural wonders.” The event closed following a presentation at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz seen by 1.6 billion people through 160 different television channels.
The show was hosted by Jennifer Lopez, Ben Kingsley, Cristiano Ronaldo and other well-known media figures. Of course, very few Cubans were able to follow the ceremony, what with our chronic lack of access to the Internet and satellite television.
In view of the profits, Weber organized a vote to select the world’s seven “natural wonders” four years later and, bold as brass, he now offers us the “seven wonder cities” of our troubled world: Beirut, Doha, Durban, Kuala Lumpur, La Paz, Vigan and Havana. I had to look up the second-to-last city above, located in the Philippines, in Wikipedia.
It is obvious the criteria being used are far removed from the domestic reality of these nations. In addition, few Cubans could be said to be tourists: generally speaking, we lack the references needed to appreciate our planet’s wonders.
The votes were cast via the Internet or through SMS. Voters were required to pay two dollars. If an individual had more than one email address or mobile phone line, as is common in the developed world, they could have cast more than one vote under different names.
Perhaps because of this and the fear of an act of aggression via mobile phones (such as the much-talked-about USAID zunzuneo program), Cuba’s State institutions chose not to sponsor the event, though they were quick to applaud the results of a tourist marketing operation that favors the country.
Looking for information about the survey on Wikipedia, I came across UNESCO’s remarks on Mr. Weber’s multi-million-dollar poll:
“There is no comparison between Mr. Weber’s media campaign and the scientific and educational work resulting from the inscription of sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The list of the seven New Wonders of the World will be the result of a private undertaking, reflecting only the opinions of those with access to the Internet and not the entire world. This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public.”
The following observation was included in the press note published by Granma newspaper to announce the selection of Havana: “Jean Paul de la Fuente, the foundation’s Value Development director, stated the selection would contribute to the development of tourism on the island.”
Incidentally, a well-known Swiss hotel company is currently building the 5-star Hotel Manzana next to Old Havana’s Parque Central, where Mr. Fuente made his declarations.
So, are we or we not justified in feeling insulted by this?
Vicente Morín Aguado [email protected]