Havana struggles to preserve the Malecón, its “face” in front of the world

Havana struggles to preserve the Malecón, its "face" in front of the world

Foto: Rey Cuba Photography

HAVANA, June 23 (EFE) .- While locals and tourists enjoy one of the most recognizable postcards of Cuba, the residents of the Malecón and the authorities of Havana are fighting to preserve the emblematic and deteriorated coastal walk of the force of the sea, its main attraction and at the same time its most bitter enemy.

The avenue and its dilapidated buildings are the most visited point of the capital, and the long wall of about eight kilometers, which contains – sometimes without success – the waters of the Bay, has become the “giant sofa” where every day thousands of people fish, dance, drink, think, fall in love and make offerings to Yemayá, orisha of the sea.

Havana “would not be the same” without the Malecón for Havana residents “born and raised” like José Roberto, who sits there “every day to talk to the sea and look for a bit of tranquility”.

However, after the famous picture of the old multicolored cars rolling down the famous road and the apparent eternal atmosphere of partying, the Malecón hides years of stories of “stubbornness” for “keeping it safe from the sea,” the architect Perla assured Efe Rosales.Havana struggles to preserve the Malecón, its "face" in front of the world

“There is a personal interest of the Historian (Eusebio Leal) in the rescue of the Malecón, for being the face of Havana,” explained the deputy director of the Office of the City Historian (OHC), entity responsible for the rescue and preservation of the Habanero Historic Center, declared a World Heritage Site.

Leal, the main architect of the rebirth of old Havana, extended his tutelage in 2006 to the Malecón, a reconstruction that initially prioritized the protection of the hundreds of residents who lived in buildings in danger of collapse.

Decades of wear by the saltpeter and floods caused by hurricanes eroded the facades and compromised the stability of the structures that were built on the coastal promenade, which until that moment – when the island emerged from its most severe economic crisis – had not received an adequate Attention.

“For more than three years there have been no total collapses (…) We managed to stop the deterioration by rehabilitating the buildings that were in ‘regular condition’, reinforcing and propping up to wait for better moments of restoration,” Rosales explained.

In the 14 blocks that the Malecón has, 77 buildings coexist, mostly built at the beginning of the last century, each with a particular style ranging from eclecticism, to modernism and late art deco.

At the beginning of the works, some 45 buildings were in a regular state of conservation and the rest in “critical condition”, so the OHC needed to evict the buildings to demolish them or repair them, in the midst of serious housing shortages on the island.

The solution was to build multifamily buildings “with a larger budget than usually assigned” in other areas of the city and move the inhabitants in greater danger, a procedure that was not always simple and found “logical resistances”.

Although the vast majority of residents settled in their new homes, others entrenched themselves “despite the fact that everything around them has fallen,” the official said.

“We do not leave because my nephew has fixed the house so that it does not fall in. We have humidity and the last hurricane (Irma, in 2017) ripped the door off, but this house has seven rooms, we’re not going for something worse “Sonia Santiesteban, neighbor of Malecón 559, explained to Efe.Havana struggles to preserve the Malecón, its "face" in front of the world

For Rosa, her home on Malecón 501 is in “a beautiful place”, but “it is a lot of work that is spent to maintain it,” she said as she hurried upstairs to check her balcony, where a piece of siding fell minutes before. from the upper terrace.

With each hurricane, the “situation is worse”, complains Mercedes Simón, an elderly woman who has been in the same building for more than 35 years, to whom she affirms that “we must give more conditions”.

“We need to get out of here, to give us houses and repair this for offices, for a store,” he asked.

On the Malecón “work is constant”, according to Rosales, who affirms that since the entrance of the Government of Havana into the work, everything is going “faster and better”.

Today they have “a plan of demolitions and a plan of new projects, especially social works”, built according to the new constructive specifications imposed by the Task Life, a plan of the Cuban State to face climate change.

The buildings will now elevate the level of the floor on the sidewalks, their lower floors will only have commercial use and the basements will only serve as parking, something that can already be seen in the modern hotel Terral, built after the demolition of the old building that occupied its site .

The height of the wall will rise to 1.25 meters with reinforcement in the facade that faces the sea and will add breakwaters to meters from the coast to contain the first impact of the sea.

“We have a continuous and strong task (…) with a lot of sacrifice, but it has been worth it,” insisted Rosales.Havana struggles to preserve the Malecón, its "face" in front of the world