Cuba Culture

High winds, old age threaten buildings throughout Havana

Posted September 19, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Culture.

BY NANCY SAN MARTIN | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Miami Herald

Thousands of old buildings in Havana are so deteriorated they are in danger of collapsing, whether from storms or gravity.

As Hurricane Ivan approached Havana last week, 37-year-old Francisco GonzŠlez figured it could be the end of his crumbling apartment building—and perhaps thousands of others like it.

‘‘If the hurricane had hit here, it would have ended this place,’’ GonzŠlez said, pointing to the roofless skeleton of a building where he lives in an apartment built of lumber behind the dilapidated facade.

Although the 500-year-old Cuban capital holds the world’s largest collection of Spanish colonial buildings, many are so deteriorated that they regularly crumble under heavy rainfalls—and the occasional hurricane.

During Hurricane Charley, the government reported that 65 Havana buildings ‘‘collapsed.’’ An apartment building in Havana’s aging Chinatown collapsed in December 2001, killing two people.

In all, one government report said, some 1,400 buildings must be abandoned each year out of fear of collapses, and 20 percent of Havana’s 2.2 million residents live in housing considered to be in ‘‘precarious condition’’—either dilapidated or flimsily built.


Another government report said Havana has 60,000 structures that are beyond repair and another 80,000 that are in a severe state of deterioration. Among the endangered buildings are many of the 1,700 structures considered architecturally valuable, such as old mansions, theaters and office buildings.

Such old buildings have remained standing so far because the island’s communist government has never had the desire or money to raze old structures and make way for new ones. On the flip side, neither the government nor residents have the money to maintain them properly and avert the ravages of humidity, salt and old age.


Havana’s official historian, Eusebio Leal, now supervises a renovation and restoration campaign. But it’s not clear if Leal or gravity is winning the fight.

Dozens of buildings in Old Havana are now little more than shells, their weak walls propped up with steel or wood beams, their stairway and balcony railings long gone, their windows broken and replaced with tarps.

Each year about 20,000 Cubans arrive from the provinces, putting additional pressure on housing.

Maria Merero’s apartment building is one of many along the Paseo de Marti in Old Havana that is missing parts of its walls.

‘‘I’m afraid that thing could fall any second now,’’ she said, pointing to a loose piece of concrete above her kitchen window. The 50-year-old cook recently broke her collarbone walking up her decrepit staircase.

As Hurricane Ivan approached, the government evacuated hundreds of such buildings to keep their inhabitants out of harm’s way. But there’s little chance the government will make new housing available to anyone who loses his home.

‘‘If your house falls, they come to see if it’s true,’’ GonzŠlez explained. “That’s the only time they come by.’‘

Member Comments

On September 22, 2004, Rosa Valdivieso wrote:

soy Gerente de un canal de televisi√≥n que se ubica en el sur del Ecuador y Norte de Per√ļ. deseo hacer contacto con los canales cubanos de televisi√≥n