How Havana is collapsing, building by building

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Jul 7, 2004
How Havana is collapsing, building by building
By Tracey Eaton and Katherine Lewin, Special to USA TODAYPublished 1:47 p.m. ET Dec. 2, 2018

(Photo: Tracey Eaton, Special to USA TODAY)
HAVANA — Rafael Álvarez was up at 6:30 a.m. to warm milk for his baby daughter when he heard the sound of pebbles falling.
“That’s when the floor below us came loose. We were left hanging in the air, then fell into the abyss.”
Álvarez, 41, a baker, was buried in rubble to his waist. His mother, daughter and two others were killed when the 101-year-old building collapsed.
“Save the babies!” were his mother’s last words, he said.
In Havana, some of the same architectural gems that draw tens of thousands of American tourists crash to the ground every year. Causes range from weather and neglect to faulty renovations and theft of structural beams.
Carlos Guerrero, 45, said he and his family live “like scared dogs” in a crumbling building along Merced Street.
Neighbors tell them, “Get out of there! It’s going to collapse!”
“It makes you feel like going and living under a bridge,” said Guerrero, who vows to grab a machete and seek revenge on housing officials if anything happens to his wife and three children.
Some 3,856 partial or total building collapses were reported in Havana from 2000 to 2013, not including 2010 and 2011 when no records were kept.
The collapses worsened an already severe housing shortage. Havana alone had a deficit of 206,000 homes in 2016, official figures show.
The housing crisis is one of the most pressing challenges facing Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who vowed to improve housing after taking charge of the communist nation of 11 million people in April.

Havana, a city of about 2 million people, had a shortage of 206,000 homes in 2016, official figures show. (Photo: Tracey Eaton, Special to USA TODAY)

Havana officials have won dozens of international awards for their work to restore the historic sector known as Old Havana, with styles ranging from Baroque and neoclassical to Art Deco.
UNESCO calls Old Havana one of Latin America’s “most notable” historic city centers and named it a World Heritage site in 1982.
Havana officials use tourism revenue to renovate many architectural treasures, but can’t keep up with the decay.
Unsafe, uninhabitable
Officials estimate 28,000 people live in buildings that could collapse at any moment. Some residents refuse to leave structures that authorities have declared unsafe.
“Of course we’re scared but what are we going to do?” said Yanelis Flores, 42, who rejected a government offer to move into a shelter.

“I will wait for a house,” said Flores from the eighth floor of the former Hotel Astor, which had American management and 200 rooms in the 1930s.
Today, daylight shines through terrifying cracks in the walls.
“This is worse than a pig pen,” Flores said. “It’s rotting.”
The third-floor staircase collapsed in April 2017.
“It was a tremendous explosion – boom!” second-floor resident Yuslemy Díaz recalled. “People on the third and fourth floors were stranded because they couldn’t get down. It was a madhouse.”
Workers brought in a truck-mounted crane to deliver meals to stranded residents.
They built a makeshift wooden staircase. Authorities began relocating residents on the 9th and 10th floors.
Díaz, 32, a manicurist, is eager to move.

‘You live with fear’
“The moment it starts to rain and a little stone falls next to you, you think it was the building. You live with fear. A building doesn’t tell you, ‘I’m going to fall tomorrow at 3 p.m.’ It falls – boom! – at any time day or night. It doesn’t warn you.”
Before the stairway failure, residents say, people had been prying valuable marble tiles from the walls, weakening the staircase.
Yunier Angulo, 31, a butcher, left the building seconds before the stairway crumbled. A man just behind him was seriously hurt.
Angulo’s friends told him he was lucky. “You were born that day,” they said. But he doesn’t feel any safer and said he sleeps “with one eye open and the other closed.”
“The building could collapse tomorrow. It gets worse every day.”
Across town, Leydis Castro, 77, has a leaky ceiling, but refuses to ask for a handout. “The government doesn’t have a duty to fix everyone’s house.”
Her neighbors disagreed and wouldn’t pay a cent when the city offered repairs in exchange for a monthly fee, she said.
Fidel Castro promised to demolish “hellish tenements” and build safe, modern housing when he took power in 1959.
Today, Magaly Marrero, 65, said her apartment is so bad that she showers in the kitchen and relieves herself in a bucket.
“Sometimes I say, ‘God, how long will I live in these conditions?’ This is no life,” she said. “What can I aspire to? To die buried because one day the roof comes down and crushes me?”
No deaths, injuries data
Cuban officials don’t release figures on those killed or injured in building collapses.
Álvarez, the baker, said before his second-story apartment came down on July 15, 2015, workers on the ground floor had been using a jackhammer to strip the walls to the brick. He said cracks from below began inching toward his apartment. His mother complained, but city inspectors said the workers weren’t to blame.
Álvarez said his wife, Lizbett, 41, fell head first into the rubble during the building collapse and was in a coma for 22 days. She recovered, but doesn’t like talking about the episode and won’t walk past 409 Havana Street where her home once stood.
Álvarez fractured his spine in three places, but dismissed his injuries and praised the victims.

Rafael Álvarez said his mother who was killed in the building collapse taught him “to be strong, to persevere. To be a good person, to get along with everyone.” (Photo: Tracey Eaton, Special to USA TODAY)

He said his mother, Mayra Páez, 60, shouted “Save the babies!” until her voice grew silent.
Rescuers told him she suffocated. She was a former nurse, “much loved in the neighborhood,” her son said.
She taught him “to be strong, to persevere. To be a good person, to get along with everyone.”
No one could save his daughter, Genolan, 3. She was “a happy girl,” her father said. “She talked all the time and danced a lot.”
His nephew, Jorge Álvarez, 18, wanted to be a welder.
“He was my life,” his uncle said.
The teenager’s girlfriend, Glendys Kindelán, had just turned 18. Her mother, Yaima Kindelán, said she frantically searched for her daughter at hospitals before finding her body, wrapped in gauze at a funeral home.
“I couldn’t see her face,” she said.
She said her daughter “a very respectful girl, a student” who dressed as a nurse for a photo shoot on her 15th birthday. Her mom joined her as a police officer.
The teen had two dogs, Yonky and Princesa, who rarely left her side. “Having those little animals that she loved so much, she wanted to become a veterinarian,” Kindelán said.
After the accident, authorities investigated an architect and four others who had planned to open a fast-food restaurant at the site.
This summer, authorities told Álvarez they didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute anyone.
“I started to cry. I expected that justice would be done. They said, ‘Calm down, sir. Calm down. Do you want some water?’
“What I want is justice. I don’t want anything else.”


It's not dying I'm talking about, it's living.
Jun 28, 2007
But it's just so charming and their education and healthcare are THE BEST!!
"Everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world. All the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave them healthcare, totally transformed the society. Bernie Sanders
Mar 11, 2006
I was actually in Havana Christmas Day 2017 and the day after.

Most people have not visited Cuba so I get a lot of people asking me about my experience. I tell everyone the same thing. It was like there was a building boom in the 40s and 50s, but then there was a mandate that not one penny could be spent on maintenance. The article is absolutely correct. Buildings are just falling apart. There were many times we had to walk around rubble. It was sad.


BRB -- Taking an okie leak
Sep 14, 2010
I was actually in Havana Christmas Day 2017 and the day after.

Most people have not visited Cuba so I get a lot of people asking me about my experience. I tell everyone the same thing. It was like there was a building boom in the 40s and 50s, but then there was a mandate that not one penny could be spent on maintenance. The article is absolutely correct. Buildings are just falling apart. There were many times we had to walk around rubble. It was sad.
My turd-world country holidays officially ended with Nepal.
Jul 7, 2004
Congresswoman Barbara Lee praises Castro, bashes Trump

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, praised former Cuban President Fidel Castro Saturday saying the world should mourn his death. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)
By THOMAS PEELE | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: November 26, 2016 at 5:02 pm | UPDATED: November 27, 2016 at 3:02 am
As the world reacted with mixed feelings Saturday to the death of Fidel Castro, a Bay Area member of Congress who’s visited Cuba more than 20 times called him a global leader who should be mourned.
“We need to stop and pause and mourn his loss,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said in a phone interview.

When she learned the news, Lee said, “I was very sad for the Cuban people.

“He led a revolution in Cuba that led social improvements for his people.”
In her eight meetings with Castro over the years, Lee said, she found him to be “a smart man. A historian. He wanted normal relations with the United States but not at the expense of the accomplishments of the revolution.”
Lee is widely regarded as one of the most liberal members of the U.S. House. She was the only no vote on the invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

She called Saturday for the U.S. to speed the full economic relations with the county by lifting travel restrictions and ending the trade embargo with Cuba in the wake of Castro’s death.
When President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday blurted out in a tweet “Fidel Castro is dead!” it showed Trump’s unfitness for office, Lee said.

“It’s not presidential at all,” she said. “This not how you react as a world leader.”

Trump followed with a harsh statement, calling the Cuban communist “a brutal dictator” whose “legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”
Lee praised President Barack Obama’s measured reaction to Castro’s death. The president called for “a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends — bonds of family, culture, commerce and common humanity.”
Some California politicians were silent on Castro’s death, while others ripped into him.
Neither of the state’s two U.S. senators, Barbara Boxer or Dianne Feinstein, issued statements or tweeted about his death by late Saturday. Neither had Kamala Harris, who was elected on Nov. 8 to replace the retiring Boxer in January.
But Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, took quickly to Twitter to rip Castro in death.
“Fidel Castro was a tyrant, murderer, liar, and evil despot. History will remember him as nothing more,” he wrote. “”Fidel Castro’s death does not deserve to be mourned.”
He also tweeted: “The irony of Fidel Castro’s death on Black Friday — the most capitalist day of the year — should serve as a reminder that freedom always wins.”
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, tweeted: “The death of tyrant Castro does not mark end to tyranny in Cuba. Until repressive family regime ends, Cuba’s freedom is in doubt.”
But no other Republican members of Congress from California tweeted about Castro’s death or issued a statement on it by late afternoon.
No other Republican member of the California delegation — except for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D- San Francisco, put out a statement that was more critical of Castro than Lee, her friend across the bay. “After decades under Fidel’s doctrine of oppression and antagonism, there is hope that a new path for Cuba is opening,” Pelosi said.
“Generations of Cuban political prisoners, democracy activists and families suffered under Fidel Castro’s rule,” she said. “In their name, we will continue to press the Cuban regime to embrace the political, social and economic dreams of the Cuban people.”
Lee, though, said the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba and the long trade embargo against the country damaged the country’s people.
“The policy was a failed policy,” she said. And the U.S. “tried to assassinate (Castro) many, many times.”
Under Castro, she said, Cuba still made progress even as the communist island nation suffered economically, especially after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Cubans, she said, made the best of the hardest times under Castro. When gasoline was rationed because of short supplies, “they rode bikes and their rates of diabetes and high blood pressure went down.”
Jul 7, 2004
Bernie seems to like him as well.

"Everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world," Sanders says in the archival video. "All the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave them healthcare, totally transformed the society."
Jul 7, 2004
Column: The left's love affair with Fidel Castro
A look back at the life of the firebrand Cuban revolutionary, whose life and work served as a constant thorn in the side of the United States, inspiring political defiance and outright revulsion around the world.
Cal ThomasTribune Content Agency

In a statement following the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, President Barack Obama spoke of “the countless ways in which (Castro) altered the course of individual lives, families and of the Cuban nation.”
That’s an understatement as the thousands who have risked their lives over the years to escape from Cuba have testified.

The president added: “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”
Why wait on history? We can judge him now.

For six decades the left has lauded Castro as a secular savior, seeing only what they wanted to see and reporting only what the Cuban government wanted them to report.
Examples are legion, but this one is typical: In February 1988, the State Department named Cuba one of the world’s biggest human rights oppressors. NBC News reporter Ed Rabel visited Havana to check it out. Rich Noyes of the Media Research Center, the conservative media watchdog, writes: “NBC’s conciliatory approach allowed Castro to spew lies about his drug connections and the wonderful achievements of the Cuban revolution.” Rabel reported, “There is, in Cuba, government intrusion into everyone’s life, from the moment he is born until the day he dies. The reasoning is that the government wants to better the lives of its citizens and keep them from exploiting or hurting one another. On a sunny day in a park in the old city of Havana it is difficult to see anything that is sinister.”

Over the years, celebrities made pilgrimages to Havana. Each time they marveled at the supposed excellence of Cuba’s medical care and quality of education. In the immediate aftermath of Castro’s death, the pattern was repeated. Typical was Andrea Mitchell, who gushed on MSNBC: “(Castro) gave his people better health care and education.”
Mitchell and other Castro disciples apparently never read a July 2007 article in National Review titled, “The myth of Cuban health care.” The magazine was among many publications that destroyed the notion of outstanding health care in Cuba, noting that the country offers three medical tiers. One tier is for celebrities and tourists, requiring payment in hard cash to help bolster the regime. The second tier is for Cuba’s top government officials. The third tier is for everyone else, and the magazine called it “wretched. Hospitals and clinics are crumbling. Conditions are so unsanitary, patients may be better off at home, whatever home is. If they do go to the hospital, they must bring their own bed sheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs, even toilet paper. And basic medications are so scarce that finding an aspirin can be a chore. An antibiotic will fetch a fortune on the black market.”

As for “excellence” in Cuba’s education system, a February 2015 article in The Atlantic punctured that myth: “Under Fidel Castro, education became universal — but he also stipulated that anyone who received this education would have to actively promote government policies both during and after their schooling. They would also be required to take government-approved courses that didn’t tolerate any criticism of socialism as a way of life. In other words, education was seen as key to the revolution taking hold and creating a literate population loyal to the government.”
The left, so concerned about human rights in America and other noncommunist countries, ignores their violations in Cuba. As Human Rights Watch noted earlier this year, “The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism. While in recent years it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists and other critics have increased dramatically. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming and the termination of employment.”
President-elect Donald Trump’s statement was more direct and accurate than President Obama’s: “Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”
This should be history’s judgment on Fidel Castro, depending on who writes it.