Cuba 2016 – A severe haunted castle rises on Havana bay’s shoreline. It’s the building of the US American embassy that was designed by Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz in 1953. The two countries never had good diplomatic relations since 1959 when the anti-American Revolution by Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro took over leading to a dictatorship and an isolation lasting more then half of a century. Fidel Castro passed away on the 25th of November 2016. Few weeks earlier, protectionist real-estate billionaire Donald Trump won the US Presidential elections. What lies ahead for slowly changing Cuba? Let’s explore the issue with an architecture an architecture and real estate perspective.
Under Fidel Castro’s stoic resilience to globalisation and capitalism, Cuba has been economically isolated due to an international embargo that made the country dependent by Russian influence during Cold War. Communist ideals marched along with poverty and human rights abuse: not freedom of speech and movement and lack of primary goods. This also meant no internet, no private property and no private entrepreneurship.
Cuba has a large and various architectural heritage: Spanish Colonial palaces, Belle Epoque mansions, Mafia Moderne beach villas, Corbusian apartment blocks and even Soviet-influenced structures. Though, housing is a big issue and many historical buildings are about to collapse. On top pf that, no private property meant no real estate: it has been was impossible to build a house, fix it or improve it unless the State gave a green light. And that rarely happened. Soon cities became decrepit despite Cubans have been trying to enliven the streets with flamboyant colours.
RELATED STORY: The neglected architecture of the National Art Schools in Havana that was commissioned by Castro and Che Guevara in 1961 is one of the last witnesses of the country’s history. Read more…
In 2015, President Raul Castro, brother or Fidel, relaxed a bit the country’s Communist rigor. After a historical visit of former US president Barak Obama, Cuba “seemed” on the verge to open to the world. People canlegally operate small businesses like bars and restaurants but also architecture practices and interior decoration studios. The can travel (even if it is hard to get a Visa from the arrival country) and buy and sell residential real estate (even if the monthly salary is still about $ 20!).
With the new “opening” investors started to look at Cuba real estate as a new Eldorado. WiFi spot started to pop-up in Havana streets, and tourism increased. Still, you can’t build without a government approval, you can’t even own any property unless you have local partner owning at least 51% of the business. And even if you marry a local, he/she will own the whole property in case of divorce. That’s why many investors started to look into trying to regain all the foreign properties that were confiscated during the Cuban Revolution in 1961.
But with Fidel Castro’s death and the election of conservative and protectionist Donald Trump everything became even more unclear. Will the capitalist real-estate tycoon stop this slow and delicate process?
Few days after the death of Fidel Castro, the new President-elect tweeted: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate the deal“.
Is this the end of the dream of American and foreign investors? Is this the end of the dream of Cubans who wish to be more connected to a world that has moved without them for too long?
RELATED STORY: Read more about Donal Trump architecture on Archipanic…
So far Donald Trump has been tweeting more then biting. On the other side, the opening created more hopes than real improvement. Freedom of speech is still an issue. With a $ 20 home salary most Cubans can’t hardly afford to buy grocery. Three-storey high trees flourish among the ruins of UNESCO watch-list sites while a great architectural legacy and the people inhabiting it are at risk.