GAESA Traps the ‘Wonder City’ in its Tentacles
Parodying Eusebio Leal Spengler’s TV show, I resolve to “walk Havana” to verify that at the intersection of the streets Zulueta and Teniente Rey workers of the Unión de Construcciones Militares (UCM) and the French construction company Bouygues began to erect the socio-administrative building and temporary facilities, thus initiating the reconstruction of the Gran Hotel. Also known as the “100-room hotel”, it is a mass of ruins that for decades has been held up by steel structures to prevent its collapse.
Eight blocks north is the Hotel Regis (Prado and Colón), a building combining eclectic styles from the 19th and 20th centuries. On the verge of collapse, it awaits builders. The building is surrounded by a fence and some panels announcing that the investor is the ALMEST real estate group; the operator, Gaviota; the supplier, TECNOTEX; the builders, UCM and Bouygues (BBI); while project plans are the work of the company Restaura, belonging to the city’s Office of the Historian.
Despite the delays, there have already been notable advances on the Packard Hotel (at Prado and Cárcel), which is about 60% done. According to the schedule, it should be completed this year.
In the vicinity, construction recently began on the Hotel Prado y Malecón (located at the corner of the same name), where one can hear the sound of the pile drivers excavating the foundations, a tough job being carried out by soldiers of the General Military Service (SMG), slave labor used by the UCM and BBI for construction tasks not calling for skilled workers.
In San Rafael, by the facade of the Manzana de Gómez Hotel, they are touching up the public lampposts and the marquee, as soon Kempinski will open its doors to offer 172 rooms and 74 suites; shops with 16 locales for the sale of well-known brands, a pool, restaurant, café, business lounges and a panoramic bar, plus beauty services, lockers and massage rooms. However, to build this “Taj Mahal” the builders hired 400 Indian laborers, “who were four times more productive than Cuban workers” according to the official press, which, at the same time, covered up the fact that the foreigners received salaries 20 times greater than those given Cubans.
With these investments, the powerful military consortium GAESA will augment the capacity of its subsidiary Gaviota in the center of the capital, one of the areas most popular among international tourists.
The worrisome thing is that the services offered by the State – in addition to being delivered by prestigious hotel chains – are being criticized by those making up the avalanche of tourists triggered by the political thaw Obama set in motion in 2014: abusive practices, a lack of hygiene, legions of cockroaches, the contraction of diarrheal diseases and high prices are some of the most frequent complaints. These hotel companies may also be hiring foreign personnel to render services, as regulations permit it.