Babalú Exclusive – Havana: The New Art of Making Ruins (Part 5 of 6)

The fifth installment in a new, six part series written exclusively for Babalú by Cuban American engineer, Humberto (Bert) Corzo (Part 1, Part 2, Part , Part 4):

Havana: The New Art of Making Ruins – Part 5 of 6

By Humberto (Bert) Corzo

According to the newspaper Juventud Rebelde report in April 2008, in the city of Havana alone, 28,000 people resided in buildings about to collapse. The expansion of slums (shanty towns, shelters) in the city has increased 50%, housing as many as 450,000 inhabitants, 20% of the city’s 2.2 million.  It is very common that three generations live in a single house. This is the fundamental reason why the people occupy terraces, balconies, porches, sidewalks, and buildmezzaninesto gain space. This has created a grave social problem for the regime.

The regime’s propaganda blamed the capitalist system for the existence of slums, promising their despairing under socialism. But in reality the number of slums and people living on them have increased and surpassed those in existence before 1959.
Havana slum, 2012 – Photo: Caridad

In 2012, about 146,000 Havana residents lived in shanty towns, equivalent to 6.6% of the city’s total population of 2.2 million. In one of the shanty towns known as Los Mangos, located in a hilly area behind the baseball stadium in San Miguel del Padrón, more than 3,500 live in about 900 shacks, built from salvaged material recovered from dumps without access to water, electricity and sanitation.
Los Mangos shanty town, San Miguel del Padrón

The National Housing Commission, by law 130 of 1952 that established the rehabilitation services of urban shanty towns, proceed to carry out a census of them. Of the 36 sites found by the census, 14 were located in Havana with over 2,000 shacks that were demolish and their 7,000 inhabitants relocated, providing them with adequate housing conditions and rehabilitation. The other 22 shanty towns located in other cities along the island were also removed and their 18,000 inhabitants faced the same fate. Actually, Havana’s population who lived in shanty towns on the outskirts was a smaller percentage than in other Latin American capitals.

The dismal state of buildings in Havana, brought about by decades of neglect by the Castroit dictatorship, manifested itself by their collapse practically every month and people dying. Many buildings on the island are old, and most of them are in a ruinous state with sewer and water supply pipes broken and/or clogged, which allow the water to cause more damage to the structure. One day the structure collapse and people have no choice, they have to keep living in those murderous buildings.

At the pace in which buildings are collapsing, in a few years only a few restored historic buildings located in the Old Havana tourist core, funded by the UN restoration program, will be still standing.

Castroism shall be blamed for what is wrong in Cuba. The Castroit regime has caused the Cuban people more than five decades of unnecessary suffering and the future generations will have the huge task of solving the housing crisis. Cuban experts claim that housing deficit is above 1.6 million units. In the cities between three to four generations live under the same roof.

From 1959 to 2012, 1.5 million Cubans have permanently left the island, the equivalent of 400,000 households. The 400,000 vacated houses left behind by the exiles mask the depth of the crisis by making them available to those remaining in Cuba. The demographic growth has continuously decreased and currently has become negative, reducing the demand for new housing. Taking into account these factors, the real housing deficit would have surpassed the two million mark. This “escape valve” has help the regime by reducing the pressure caused by the housing shortage.



Humberto (Bert) Corzo was born in Cuba. In 1962 he graduated from University of Havana with a degree in Civil Engineering. Since coming to the United States in 1969, he established his residence in Los Angeles, California, where in 1972 he obtained the registration as a Professional Engineer. He has over forty five years of experience in the field of Structural Engineering. He is a Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Cuban-American Association of Civil Engineers.