“Let’s see if they fix our houses” with the millions from the restoration of the Santa Clara convent

Julita is 57 years old and sells avocados next to the Santa Clara de Asís convent, the oldest cloister in Havana and which is in the midst of a capital restoration to return it to its former splendor. A few meters from its walls, painted yellow, the residents of the area dream that the investment will be enough to also renovate a neighborhood sunk in housing deterioration and crisis.

“They have not told us anything so far that they are also going to repair some nearby houses, not even the streets full of potholes and which are quite broken,” he explains to 14ymedio a resident of Sol Street, who was born in a tenement where some twenty families now live. “Since 1965, when my mother brought me into this world, the people on this lot have been waiting for her little houses to be fixed up.”

In front of the entrance door where Julita offers her avocados – “some are ready to eat today and others for tomorrow” – rises the imposing structure of the convent that occupies a huge block outlined by the emblematic streets Habana, Cuba, Sol and Luz de Old Havana. The wall that surrounds the garden and the rest of the facades offer little information about the works that take place inside.

Only one entrance for vehicles allows you to browse and talk with an animated custodian who assures that the works “are already halfway through” and that they are in the hands of a Cuban cooperative whose name he avoids giving. The view from that access does not help much to form an idea of ​​the repair process, since there are no builders, no hustle and bustle of trucks with materials and no other person than the security employee who is bored in a booth .

There was “a lot of movement in the neighborhood” a few days ago when the future headquarters of the College of Arts and Crafts of Santa Clara was visited by the ambassador of the European Union in Cuba

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“It is going to be a school and it will be ready in 2024,” explains the man at the top of his voice several meters from a fence that closes the entrance to the place. But a walk around the block is enough to conclude that the prognosis may be rather triumphalist, because only the part of the building that faces Havana Street shows signs of being restored. The rest still shows the scars that time, laziness and the natural elements left on the convent.

Julita and her neighbors saw “a lot of movement in the neighborhood” a few days ago when the future headquarters of the College of Arts and Crafts of Santa Clara was visited by the ambassador of the European Union in Cuba, Isabel Brilhante, according to the Spanish agency EFE. “We realized that someone important was coming because this was filled with policemen and they even picked up the garbage. Then the diplomatic cars left and everything went back to the way it was before.”

The work, a project between the Office of the Historian of Havana, the UNESCO regional office for Culture, the EU and the Italian Agency for Cooperation, seeks to create a space for training in the arts and restoration trades in Cuba and the Caribbean region. But the residents in the vicinity have their doubts about the final destination of a construction that has marked the lives of Havanans in its more than four centuries of history.

Raydel is sitting in his pedicab under the shadow that this Tuesday afternoon was projected by the metal fence that surrounds the main entrance of the building that faces Havana Street. “There are already several schools dedicated to this restoration, there is even the San Gerónimo University College in Havana and a workshop school. Why build another school?” He questions. “This neighborhood needs a cultural, recreational space for children and young people.”

With its three cloisters and a room that serves as an orchard and garden, for a total area of ​​12,300 square meters, the building is one of the greatest construction challenges that the Office of the City Historian has faced in the last half century. Its current deputy director general, Perla Rosales, assured EFE that “the roof of one of the wings of the cloister has already been restored, as well as the ceilings of the four galleries.”

However, despite the fact that the face of the city’s historian, Eusebio Leal, can be seen at various points on the fence that surrounds the main façade, the neighbors point out that after his death in 2020, “nothing has been the same again “. Raydel believes that “that idea of ​​benefiting the community was lost when a restoration of this type was carried out. Now only things from the walls to the inside are improved.”

“We are going to have to entrust ourselves to San Leal, patron saint of this here, because the Historian’s Office no longer works for the people, all they want is to make money,” says the pedicab driver: “The stores in this area are bare , the very expensive food offers, the water supply problems do not let us live and the benefits that we had a few years ago for living in this part of Old Havana have been lost”.

According to official data, for the restoration of the largest convent in the Cuban capital, more than 250 tons of supplies have been imported for the works, worth 1.8 million dollars, and more than 2.5 million are planned to buy more resources until the end of 2023. The current work is concentrated on the first cloister that will be used for the classrooms, laboratories and conference room of the future teaching center.

“We are going to have to entrust ourselves to San Leal, patron saint of this here, because the Historian’s Office no longer works for the people”

But all those enormous numbers, construction details and names of investment entities are light years away from the people who were born and grew up in the shadow of a building that was declared a cultural heritage of humanity in 1982. This Tuesday the voices rose in tone in a queue to buy frozen chicken in a state market on Sol Street. With their backs to the old walls, a group of neighbors almost came to blows desperate to get a little food.

Patrolling the place, the policemen mark their presence in an area somewhat removed from the tourist epicenter made up of Calle Obispo, Plaza de la Catedral and the area near the Castillo de la Fuerza. “At least it’s not a garbage dump anymore,” says another relieved neighbor, this time a resident on Cuba Street. “This place has passed through so many hands that no one took responsibility anymore,” he laments.

“Here we couldn’t live with the rats and the stench of garbage, because it was full of filth. Not so much now, because they have had to do rubbish work to start working, but more than benefits what it has brought us in recent years there are a lot of headaches,” he says.

Turning from the house of this informal vendor, the faded yellow walls of the convent bear graffiti that reads "Long live the Revolution, Cuba lives and works".  (14ymedio)

Another pedicab driver who passes close to the metal fence looks for some tourist who demands his services, but he only runs into people from the neighborhood, with light clothes, flip flops and all the energies put in a queue, the transfer of a tank full of water or searching for food. An Argentinian couple breaks through one of the alleys and the driver of the tricycle mobilizes.

“Is it a holiday today?” asks the woman with a River Plate accent. “It’s that I see everything closed, the cafeterias, the bars and the hotels,” she adds with her wide-brimmed hat to protect herself from the sun. “No, it’s not a holiday, it’s just that this has been dead here for a long time. Let’s see if this work gives us some life back,” the pedicab driver replies and convinces them that “for the Central Park area, things are busier.” .

Julita picks up her avocados and goes into the room. “I’ll come back when the sun goes down a bit or when the shadow of the Santa Clara falls to this side and the heat isn’t so punishing.” Around the corner from this informal vendor’s house, the convent’s faded yellow walls bear graffiti that reads “Long live the Revolution, Cuba lives and works.”


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The Article Is In Spanish🡽

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