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Cuba: Fatal Collapse in Downtown Havana Stirs Online Debate

Over the last three weeks, two buildings have collapsed in downtown Havana. Located on Calzada de Infanta, a bustling thoroughfare that runs from the Vedado section of the city to Old Havana, the first building to fall killed three of its inhabitants and severely injured six more. There were no fatalities or injuries with the fall of the second building, an old theater that was no longer in use.

Bloggers from Voces Cubanas [es] and Havana Times saw the incidents as clear evidence of state officials’ negligence of housing conditions in the city.

Generacion Y‘s [es] Yoani Sánchez wrote (English translation here):

Calzada de Infanta, in Havana. Photo by Flickr user amycgx (CC: BY - NC)

Calzada de Infanta, in Havana. Photo by Flickr user amycgx (CC: BY – NC)

¿Qué solución urgente se aplicará para que esas tragedias no sigan siendo parte del escenario cotidiano? No vamos a aceptar una respuesta al estilo de que “se está estudiando el tema para aplicar soluciones de manera paulatina”. Tampoco nos vengan ahora con que la culpa la tienen los propios moradores que se quedaron en un lugar inhabitable. ¿A dónde hubieran podido ir? En lugar de eso exigimos que se construya, se repare, se nos proteja.

What urgent solution will be applied so that these tragedies won’t continue to be a part of our daily landscape? We will not accept a response in the style of, “We are studying the issue in order to apply solutions in a gradual way.” Nor do we now fault the inhabitants themselves, who stayed in an uninhabitable place. Where could they go? Instead, we demand that the State construct, repair, protect us.

Sin EVAsion's [es] Miriam Celaya wrote that such incidents have become “commonplace” in the city, but that the first received much greater attention than usual, due to the building's central location, and reports of the collapse by citizens using Twitter.

As Twitter users and bloggers reported on the incident, Celaya wrote that the state press had little choice but to cover it as well. She criticized their approach to the story (English translation here):

La prensa revolucionaria aprovechó la desgracia para resaltar la importancia de la intervención del Cuerpo de Bomberos, la Policía Nacional Revolucionaria, los servicios médicos de urgencia y las autoridades de la provincia y de los municipios Centro Habana y Plaza de la Revolución. Ellos fueron, a juzgar por los medios, los verdaderos protagonistas. La tragedia humana palidecía y se empequeñecía frente a la grandeza de las instituciones revolucionarias.

The revolutionary press took advantage of the tragedy to highlight the importance of the involvement of the Fire Department, the National Revolutionary Police, the Emergency Medical Services and the authorities of the province and municipalities of Centro Habana and Plaza de la Revolución. They were, judging by the media, the true central characters. Human tragedy was dwarfed and paled in comparison to the greatness of the revolutionary institutions.

She summarizes the article about the collapse that appeared in the print version of the national daily, Granma [es], on Thursday, January 19:

“la actuación coordinada e intensa” de “las fuerzas del Cuerpo de Bomberos y los servicios médicos de urgencia en el rescate de las víctimas y en el empeño de salvar la vida de los que se encontraban atrapados”, como si esa no fuera exactamente la función que se espera deben cumplir dichos cuerpos; o como si los derrumbes fuesen un accidente del clima o un mero capricho arquitectónico. Algo inesperado, impredecible, antojadizo, casual.

“Intense and coordinated action” of “the forces of Fire and Emergency Medical Services in the rescue of victims and in the effort to save the lives of those who were trapped,” as if those were not exactly the expected roles of such organizations, or as if building collapses were an act of God, or just an architectural whim; something by chance, unexpected, unpredictable or capricious.

Isbel Díaz Torres, at Havana Times, wrote of the many buildings in Havana that have fallen into disrepair and described how government policies have left Cubans with little capacity to repair their homes:

From what has been announced, the new formula designed by the government to provide home improvement loans and grants doesn’t allow for major structural work, which is what is required for many of the dilapidated buildings that abound across the capital, particularly in the municipalities of Centro Havana and Old Havana.

[…]

Of course many of the buildings are in such deteriorated states of construction that the only plausible solution would be their demolition. This, however, is impossible without a housing option for those people still living in them.

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