GAESA Traps the 'Wonder City' in its Tentacles
PABLO PASCUAL MÉNDEZ PIÑA | La Habana | 24 de Marzo de 2017 - 10:51 CET.
Parodying Eusebio Leal Spengler's TV show, I resolve to "walk Havana" to
verify that at the intersection of the streets Zulueta and Teniente Rey
workers of the Unión de Construcciones Militares (UCM) and the French
construction company Bouygues began to erect the socio-administrative
building and temporary facilities, thus initiating the reconstruction of
the Gran Hotel. Also known as the "100-room hotel", it is a mass of
ruins that for decades has been held up by steel structures to prevent
Eight blocks north is the Hotel Regis (Prado and Colón), a building
combining eclectic styles from the 19th and 20th centuries. On the verge
of collapse, it awaits builders. The building is surrounded by a fence
and some panels announcing that the investor is the ALMEST real estate
group; the operator, Gaviota; the supplier, TECNOTEX; the builders, UCM
and Bouygues (BBI); while project plans are the work of the company
Restaura, belonging to the city's Office of the Historian.
Despite the delays, there have already been notable advances on the
Packard Hotel (at Prado and Cárcel), which is about 60% done. According
to the schedule, it should be completed this year.
In the vicinity, construction recently began on the Hotel Prado y
Malecón (located at the corner of the same name), where one can hear the
sound of the pile drivers excavating the foundations, a tough job being
carried out by soldiers of the General Military Service (SMG), slave
labor used by the UCM and BBI for construction tasks not calling for
In San Rafael, by the facade of the Manzana de Gómez Hotel, they are
touching up the public lampposts and the marquee, as soon Kempinski will
open its doors to offer 172 rooms and 74 suites; shops with 16 locales
for the sale of well-known brands, a pool, restaurant, café, business
lounges and a panoramic bar, plus beauty services, lockers and massage
rooms. However, to build this "Taj Mahal" the builders hired 400 Indian
laborers, "who were four times more productive than Cuban workers"
according to the official press, which, at the same time, covered up the
fact that the foreigners received salaries 20 times greater than those
With these investments, the powerful military consortium GAESA will
augment the capacity of its subsidiary Gaviota in the center of the
capital, one of the areas most popular among international tourists.
The worrisome thing is that the services offered by the State - in
addition to being delivered by prestigious hotel chains - are being
criticized by those making up the avalanche of tourists triggered by the
political thaw Obama set in motion in 2014: abusive practices, a lack of
hygiene, legions of cockroaches, the contraction of diarrheal diseases
and high prices are some of the most frequent complaints. These hotel
companies may also be hiring foreign personnel to render services, as
regulations permit it.
When walking through Havana one is exposed to clouds of dust and smoke,
like the hundreds of tourists who come and go on foot, in bicycle taxis,
and convertibles dating back to the 50s. With the background sound of
guitars, bongos and maracas, characterizing the typical music of the
area, tourists sit at tables of establishments scattered everywhere, to
raise their glasses or savor some typical Cuban fare. Their experience
includes, free of charge, sniffing a wide range of odors, including a
potpourri of urine, garbage and excrement. But, most importantly, they
can experience, live and up close, the poverty that afflicts the people
of Havana, the antithesis of the sublime Ciudad Maravilla (Wonder City)
portrayed in the catalogues.
The scam is enshrined on a plaque unveiled a year ago on the esplanade
of the San Salvador de la Punta fortress, by the New7Wonders Foundation,
which chose Havana as one of the world's seven "wonder cities" for its
legendary charm, warm and welcoming atmosphere, and the allure and
joviality of its people.
Walking towards the bay we come upon another "wonder", in this case of
Cuban civil engineering: the pumping station that moves the sewage
generated to the Playa del Chivo (beach).
In the vicinity there stands the former headquarters of the General
Staff of the Navy, today that of the military consortium GAESA, and the
office of Brigadier Gen. Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, the shadowy
genius of the regime's underground economy regime, who, from there,
patting his pockets, perhaps counts and observes, as if they were little
sheep, the tourists descending from cruise ships at the port of San
Retreating down the Calle Neptuno, westbound, and admiring the dingy
white sheets hanging from the balconies, two tourists interrupt the
"Havana walk" of this reporter to ask: "why do the taxis keep going when
someone flags them?"
I clue him in that on the necessary "stop" signal to convey that they
will pay the fare in CUC. They look at me, puzzled, and clarify that
they are talking about the "taxis that charge 10 pesos". I tell them
that such a fare is history. Shrugging my shoulders I say: "Didn't they
want a 'wonder city'? Well, there they have it."
Source: GAESA Traps the 'Wonder City' in its Tentacles | Diario de Cuba