Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Cuba’s Abandoned Nuclear City
And the People Who Call It Home
By Darmon Richter

In 1976, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union drew up
blueprints for a twin reactor nuclear plant to be built at Juragua, a
site just west of Cienfuegos Bay, on the southern coast of Cuba. When
completed, the facility would revolutionize the island’s shoddy electric
power grid—with just one reactor capable of meeting 15 percent of the
country’s energy needs. It would also reduce dependence on expensive oil
imports, while creating thousands of new jobs for the country. In order
to see this dream realized, a small city was to be six miles from the
plant—it would feature 4,200 homes intended for the families of
construction workers, scientists, engineers, technicians, and the
nuclear specialists flown in from Moscow to oversee the project. The
city, which became known as Ciudad Nuclear, or Nuclear City, officially
opened on October 13, 1982.

Although the project held much promise, in 1989 the Soviet Union
collapsed and Moscow’s funding for Ciudad Nuclear dried up, much to the
relief of Washington. Juragua is only 260 miles south of Miami, and
Washington could do little at the time to monitor the project’s safety,
having cut off diplomatic ties with Havana years before. Havana
struggled on for a few years to finish the power plant, draining what
resources it had, until 1992, when the nuclear program at Cienfuegos Bay
was scrapped. In 1996, Cuba and Russia discussed reviving the project
(which had so far cost them around $1.1 billion), by finding other
countries willing to invest in the reactor. It never came to pass,
however, in part because the United States enacted a law known as the
Helms-Burton Act, which allowed Washington to sanction any country
helping Cuba to finish the plant.

But Ciudad Nuclear did not die there. Today, although the city is a mess
of half-built homes and unfinished concrete towers, a few hundred
Cubans—and a handful of Russians—still call it home.

Even after construction was abandoned and four hundred Russian workers
left, many Cubans stayed behind. Some of the Russians stayed, too,
taking advantage of the regime change and raising their families in the
cluster of completed buildings that run down the central boulevards of
Ciudad Nuclear.

There is a temptation here to draw parallels between Ciudad Nuclear and
the “ghost city” of Pripyat at Chernobyl. Both were designed as model
nuclear utopias—the socialist atomgrad (a 1970s vision of the future
full of social housing and limitless clean energy)—and both were tied to
nuclear programs that would ultimately end in disaster. But while
Pripyat was evacuated in 1986, poisoned by a nuclear meltdown whose
effects would render the city uninhabitable for the next 10,000 years,
Ciudad Nuclear, abandoned before completion, was left to suffer a
somewhat slower and less toxic death.

Year after year, the city’s fate is drawing closer. With next to no
budget for maintenance, the concrete hulks are beginning to rust and
crumble in the salty sea winds. I visited the city in April 2014, and I
did not find a ghost town. This was no Pripyat but, rather, a living
village nestled in the ribcage of a dead city. The market in the center
sells live chickens and fresh vegetables, clothing, shoes, bottles of
rum, and cans of sun-warmed beer. The community has a small primary
school, a pharmacy, a playground, and a clinic, but despite the color
and commotion in the little market that day, the sheer poverty of Ciudad
Nuclear was palpable.

In the café where I stopped for lunch, the staff listened to cassettes
on a battery-powered boom box. Raw meat sat on the counter beneath a
fly-proof net, and there was only a bucket of water available in the
restroom for washing hands. I was later told that residents had full
access to facilities such as electricity and water, but I didn’t see any
evidence of it during my visit—nor did I see any trace of Ciudad
Nuclear’s alleged Russian residents.

Without local employers or resources, Ciudad Nuclear can survive only as
a commuter town, if it survives at all. Some of the residents work in
Cienfuegos, a port city with a population of 170,000, some 25 miles
away. However, given that only five percent of Cubans own a car or other
private vehicle, it is difficult for most to travel between the two
cities, which is a five-hour shadeless walk under a scorching sun. Even
the horses I saw tethered to a wagon in Ciudad Nuclear appeared to be
struggling with the Caribbean heat.

Year after year, the city’s fate is drawing closer. With next to no
budget for maintenance, the concrete hulks are beginning to rust and
crumble in the salty sea winds. I saw balconies that had fallen away
from towers, sections of wall collapsing to reveal the iron girders
rotting inside. An old man watched me pass from the shadowed awning of a
bare, concrete skeleton. He leaned on the wall, smoking a cigar beneath
a sign painted with former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s famous words,
“¡Socialismo o Muerto!” (Socialism or Death).

In Cienfuegos I met Ramos, a Cuban engineer now in his late 50s, who had
come to the coast in the 1980s looking for a job at the power plant. The
plant was never finished, though, so he settled in Cienfuegos instead,
where he works as a taxi driver to this day. I asked Ramos about Ciudad
Nuclear, about the unsustainable community amid the concrete cemetery.

It seems that the residents of Ciudad Nuclear are faced with a choice.
They can either retreat to the cities—such as Cienfuegos, Santa Clara,
or Havana—or they can simply wait and hope for better days.

Those days may come, perhaps. U.S. President Barack Obama talks of
opening trade deals with Cuba. Russian President Vladimir Putin has
promised to cancel 90 percent of the debts that Cuba once owed to the
former Soviet Union—about $32 billion—in exchange for reopening its old
Soviet spying post at Lourdes, just outside Havana (a facility that had
once been used to monitor telephone calls coming out of the U.S.
southeast). One way or another, Cuba’s fortunes are set to change over
the coming decades. But for Ciudad Nuclear, with its wilting population
and rapidly decaying homes, these changes may come too late.

Source: Darmon Richter | Cuba’s Nuclear City –

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