Eusebio Leal’s Social Programs in Old Havana Disappear under GAESA /
Juan Juan Almeida
Juan Juan Almeida, 2 February 2017 — On July 30, 2016 the new military
management that officially took over the Cuban tourism company
Habaguanex and other business entities that had belonged to the Office
of the Historian of the City of Havana is planning to satisfy its own
own financial needs by doing away with social programs now operated by
the People’s Council of Old Havana.
Their goal is to create 725 new hotel rooms. To do that, their plan
calls for identifying buildings and plots of land which can be used for
tourist lodgings by changing their current use and converting them into
Number 13 on a list entitled “Hotel Development Strategy” is the area’s
Bethlehem Convent, currently the Day Center. It appears to be one of the
buildings that will soon be converted into accommodations for tourists.
It amounts to an illogical and unpopular action, one that will
undoubtedly cause a dramatic drop in the resources available for social
The Bethlehem Convent, located at 512 Compostela Street, is an 18th
century building that now serves as as a full-time residence for the
elderly and an activity center facility for other seniors who spend the
Its clients, who have gotten on in years, participate in physical
exercise activities as well as art, computer, leather-working, theater
and music classes. It is a nursing home that also houses a children’s
day-care center as well as a physical therapy clinic, pharmacy and
ophthalmology and optometry service.
During natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods the Bethlehem
Convent also adapts its facilities to provide protection to vulnerable
sectors of the population and people living in areas at greater risk. It
is perhaps for this reason that this humanitarian project receives
international support and cooperation, especially from Italy and Spain.
The decision to replace the management of Habanguanex with a military
regiment intentionally and maliciously ignores the fact that housing
represents one of Cuba’s biggest problems. It puts a “temporary” halt to
the construction of protected residences, a program which houses people
living in precarious conditions, while prioritizing resources and funds
to complete what will be the luxurious Hotel Packard.
“The most important social programs run the risk of falling into a death
spiral and ultimately disappearing. The military was waiting for the
perfect moment to gobble up Habaguanex and the failing health of [the
Historian of the City] Eusebio Leal gave them an opening,” says an
outraged official at the Office of the Historian.
“How many social programs designed specifically for Cubans are there in
Varadero or any of the other tourist developments run by Gaviota?* None.
They only have hospitals for foreigners. The ’development strategy,’
which they have distributed to us in the form of a very well-illustrated
brochure, is aimed at turning Old Havana into an asphalt Varadero. I
understand that they develop hotels. But what will happen to the policy
of ’restoring buildings without forgetting the soul of its
inhabitants,’ which we defended for years?” asks the woman, who might
almost be described as a “veteran” of Eusebio Leal’s team.
*Translator’s note: Varadero is a large-scale, high-end seaside resort
village catering to foreign tourists and occasionally to Cuban nationals
who can afford to pay in hard currency. Gaviota is a state-owned,
military-run tourism company that owns and runs a string of luxury
hotels throughout the country.
Source: Eusebio Leal’s Social Programs in Old Havana Disappear under
GAESA / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba –