Havana’s heritage threatened by development

11 March 2016

Neighbourhood renovation often is a loaded term. Gentrification, as it is also called, brings new life and investment to old, dilapidated neighbourhoods. The improvements, on the other hand, push up the property prices and residents who have lived there for many years are often forced out because they cannot afford the new prices.

A street in Havana before restoration. Picture Claudia Daut Reuters

A street in Havana before restoration. Picture: Claudia Daut/Reuters

Havana, the Cuban capital, is now struggling with this problem, among others. A large influx of capital, especially from the United States, may utterly destroy the city’s unique character and atmosphere in favour of a Disney-like version of what once was there. At the moment it is still illegal for Americans to invest in Cuba. Technically it also is not yet legal for Americans to visit Cuba as mere tourists. Visitors sidestep this limitation, however, by indicating on their visa application that the visit is for cultural reasons or to ‘support’ the Cubans. Last year, more than 3 million
tourists visited the country. Tourists pay in the convertible peso which is pegged to the US dollar and is about 25 times more valuable than the ordinary Cuban peso.

Although the tourists and buyers who purchase property through family will bring much-needed capital for residents, architects and city planners, as reported in The Guardian, are of the opinion that the city’s infrastructure cannot cope with this influx.

According to one, the main water supply dates from the 1920s and loses about 50% of the water due to leakage. The old buildings for which Havana is known also run the risk of simply being demolished or being so tarted up that their integrity will be lost. This possibility is being described, among others, as Las Vegas meets Miami in the Caribbean Sea’.

Renovations in Havana Old Town. Picture. Reuters

Renovations in Havana’s Old Town. Picture: Reuters

Another possible complication arises from claims by companies that lost property in Havana due to the revolution. An American shipping company claims a kilometer of the harbour front, as well as the old brewery building because it once was theirs – a claim that amounts to about $ 850 million. Other giants such as Coca-Cola, Texaco and Exxon are also in line.

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