Old Havana Under Repairs

Photo feature by Elio Delgado Valdes

Text by Elvira Pardo Cruz

HAVANA TIMES — Many are the obstacles we must dodge as we head for work or go out for a stroll around the city. One sees men wearing helmets and overalls in hectic movement, oblivious to the hot tropical sun and what day of the week it is. Their minds are firmly set on installing underground gas, electricity, fiber-optic and telephone pipelines.

People of all ages – and even those with disabilities – dodge, jump and climb over the trenches dug up by these men, such that one feels one is watching the Olympics at times. Some are helped by a worker and there is always the charitable old lady who offers these hard-working and willful men a bottle of water or a cup of coffee.

The installation of underground piping began in January of 2013. A large investment to restore this infrastructure using cutting edge technology is being made. These efforts involve brigades from the Union Nacional Electrica (National Electric Union, UNE), Recursos Hidraulicos y Aguas de la Habana (Havana Hydraulic and Water Resources Center), the telephone company ETECSA, the Empresa de Gas Manufacturado de La Habana (Natural Gas Company of Havana) and the Direccion de Redes Tecnicas (Technical Networks Office) of the Provincial People’s Power Assembly.

The Direccion de Inversiones (Investment Office), Puerto Carenas construction company and Plan Maestro para la Revitalizacion Integral de la Habana Vieja (“Master Plan for the Comprehensive Restoration of Old Havana”), projects attached to the Office of the City Historian, are also participating in the project. Cuba’s National Housing Institute, the Road and Traffic Center and the Servicios Especializados de la Construccion (Specialized Construction Services, SECONS) verify the state of the buildings before work begins. The company GEOCUBA and Pinar del Rio’s GEOMINERA have also taken on the challenge.

The work goes on from sunrise to sunset. The narrow streets make it impossible to install all of the pipelines at once.

Old Havana is in a state of commotion, as the repair of parks and old buildings as magnificent as the Capitolio, the Manzana de Gomez complex or the Parque Cristo, as well as the restoration of housing, is also underway. Old Havana, it seems, is being reborn from the foundation up.

Passersby, tourists and locals look on, marveling at the pace of the work. A building being built on the corner, a long piece of pipe being transported by a dozen men, a dumper loaded with construction materials, a crane lifting the concrete foundation off an old building, an enormous truck being loaded with rubble, the deafening noise of sledge-hammers breaking up the pavement, the sirens of fire-fighters, rushing to the scene of a fire, making their way through the tight streets – many are the sights during the day, but people remain positive as they head home to rest, harboring the dreams yet to be fulfilled.

Tomorrow will be another day, the repair work will continue, the city will stir like a giant, and the streets will show the dug-up trenches that are a testament to these efforts, undertaken in sunlight or in rain.

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13 thoughts on “Old Havana Under Repairs

  • Bobcat had plants in other countries even before the Doosan purchase. France, Czech Republic, and China.

  • Griffin you seem to be unaware there is an embargo in place that prevents US businesses from selling to Cuba except a few cash sale exceptions such as some food products.. Over 95% of the products made in the US can not be sold to Cuba. On the other hand the embargo forbids Cuba from selling anything to the US.

  • US businesses can sell products to Cuba. All imports into Cuba are handled through the Cuban government controlled import monopoly. Independent Cuban small businesses are prohibited by the Cuban government from importing anything.

  • Wow Griffin. You forgot to tell US businesses that they can now sell freely to Havana, which is what you imply. Of course if Cuba finds a US product thru a 3rd party, they can purchase it. But just like that puro, in the US, at highly inflated prices. BTW, I’ll go for tepid over disingenuous.

  • The Cuban legislature is moving back to the Capitolio? That’s very interesting. A few years back, a Cuban cab driver pointed to the Capitolio and said, “That use to be where our government worked, but since the Triumph of the Revolution, we don’t need it anymore. Now one man sits in his big house and says, “Sí o no!” , We Cubans are so lucky!”

    I have read that less than 50% of all water pumped through Havana’s water pipes gets to the city’s taps. Most of it is lost in leaks. The sewage system must be at least as bad as that, and therefore a great deal of cross-contamination exists.

  • Your attempts at sarcasm are rather tepid, Dan.

    The embargo applies only to a ban on buying Cuban products. Cuban imports hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods from the US.

  • Doosan bought Bobcat recently, but all of the vehicles are still manufactured in the USA.

  • Cuba may not be getting them from the US. It could just as easily come from Asia. Bobcat is owned by South Korea’s Doosan Industries.

  • Regarding the water pipe system, I should point out that the system of underground water pipes for supplying water to the Cuban populace was built in 1913 — a very, very long time ago (http://www.russellbedford.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=494:cuba-in-transition-risks-and-opportunities&catid=91:features-and-analysis&Itemid=90). The question on every Cuban’s lip is whether or not there are any signs of the water supply system in Havana being repaired.
    The restoration of the Dome of El Capitolio is the most visible sign of renewed work in restoring Old Havana. As a matter of fact, the Capitolio will again become the seat of Cuba’s legislature, either by the end of this year or early next year.

  • I’m marveling at the pace of the work – 6 months now we’ve had a 3 foot deep hole outside the front door and no vehicle access closer than three blocks away. There’s no doubt that this work needed to be done, but to dig up every street all at once seems crazy.

  • I guess that because you can find an Upmann or Cohiba in the US means there is no embargo as well.

  • That Bobcat front-end loader in the top photograph was manufactured in the USA.

    What embargo?

  • There is a lot of catching up with infra-structure repairs in most of the towns and cities of Cuba in addition to those necessary in Old Havana. It would be interesting to know how much of the work in Old Havana is being paid for by UNESCO funding. Many years of neglect have resulted in the basic services being in sad condition. In our town, water runs down the streets from the numerous leaks in the antiquated pipes. Electricity cuts occur 3 or 4 times a week. Gas cylinders are limited to specific users and sewage is dependent upon cess-pits. Many of the streets are deeply pock-marked by holes up to a foot deep, and the sidewalks are almost uniformly in a state of neglect.
    Perhaps eventually remedial action will be taken folllowing fifty five years of socialist planning.

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