Gentrification: another face of Cuba’s socialist equality
JORGE ENRIQUE RODRÍGUEZ | La Habana | 10 de Octubre de 2016 – 09:25 CEST.
If there is one issue the Cuban Government has failed to resolve in over
50 years it is, undoubtedly, that of residential spaces. Cuba’s “housing
problems,” as Government officials refer to them, cut across all the
Island’s socio-cultural strata.
Overcrowding, as notes psychologist Yanet Cruz Hoyos, “besides being a
factor associated with domestic violence, is identified by most Cuban
families as one of the main problems that affect their daily lives,” as
“many people are forced to share small physical spaces.”
The rhetoric of social equity, upheld by the sole party and promoted by
its ideological affiliates, has never squared with the economic reality
of everyday Cubans. And the “housing problem” manifests more clearly
that the reform of laws allowing the sale of houses and apartments has
not yielded equal opportunities to acquire decent living spaces.
According to the figures in the 2014 Statistical Yearbook, in its
chapter on construction and investments, completed homes in Havana
during that period came to a total of 4,090, of which 3,096 were built
by the State sector. But the data did not specify for whom, for what
purposes, and where these “finished homes” are located.
The writer Arsenio Castillo Martiatu notes that Havana has become “the
capital of gentrification” (a process of neighborhood transformation
that involves the implementation of new social and economic applications
and the displacement of traditional residents, who cannot afford the
rising housing costs. These areas become homogeneous in terms of their
social composition, populated by more affluent people).
It is no secret that for most Cubans, “if it was previously impossible
to legally sell your home, it is now almost impossible to legally buy a
property. At current prices – tens of thousands of CUC for an apartment
or house – the possibility is nil. There are no saving mechanisms, no
loans of this magnitude, or wages making it possible. Neighborhoods
undergoing gentrification are usually located near the center of the
city, including the coveted Vedado, where owning a good house or
apartment means one must have the opportunity to run a rental business,
or a restaurant or bar,” says Castillo Martiatu.
The introduction of the “new economic model,” designed with more with a
view to political power than promoting the entrepreneurial spirit of
citizens, has been a failure in its empowerment of civil society. The
ownership rates for Cubans, both on the Island and those in exile, are low.
“The flourishing of the construction of homes through one’s own efforts
is proportional to the growth of social inequality,” says Euripides
Barrientos, an architect and the founder of Contingente Blas Roca. The
same applies to the sale of properties.
Gentrification or recolonization?
“We do not sell ideas, we make them reality.” This is the slogan of a
private construction sector group in charge of remodeling, among others,
the local Bar 911 (in 27 corner 4) and Piano Bar H and 23, both in Vedado.
One of its masons, Leonel G. Rodriguez, explained that the group also
offers interior design services. “We focus on creating residences
reflecting the current trends of minimalism and brutalism,” he says.
“It’s almost impossible for an everyday Cuban to afford our services,
due to the high cost of investment in quality materials and work. Both
the houses and business locales that we have designed or remodeled are
for people with affluent relatives living abroad, or foreigners who come
to invest in Cuba and acquire these properties through Cuban owners.”
Although the Government has not yet implemented a law allowing
foreigners to buy property directly, both residential and business,
foreign capital is being invested through Cuban owners living on the Island.
“Gentrification in Cuba began long before the current reform measures
undertaken by the national institutes of Physical Planning and Housing,”
says Iznaga, an economist and ex-manager of the Caracol chain.
“This reform also served to justify what was already obvious: a country
that was being bought up, piece by piece, by private foreign investors
and the Government’s military elite,” he says.
“One example of the people who will have the opportunity to empower
themselves is the GAESA’s ‘coup’ against the Havana Historian’s Office.
Cubans who, thanks to their own efforts, manage to acquire luxurious
properties or businesses are few, and the important thing is to ask how
they acquired the capital, because gentrification in Cuba is also the
result of a third factor: internal corruption.”
Source: Gentrification: another face of Cuba’s socialist equality |
Diario de Cuba – www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1476084334_25899.html