Havana invests in architectural facelift, but many Cubans still live in squalor
Published Tuesday, November 29, 2016 10:00PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 29, 2016 10:36PM EST
Strolling through the streets of Havana can feel like walking through a museum. Vintage cars putter through cobblestone streets lined with stately colonial buildings dating back to the 1500s.
As the death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro sinks in, the island nation is following through with plans to modernize -- and it’s beginning with a much-needed facelift of its capital city.
Unlike other Caribbean capitals, Havana’s colonial architecture was left nearly untouched by the capitalist building boom of the 20th century. But as Cuba’s trade with allies in the Soviet bloc collapsed during the 1990s, the city’s picturesque buildings began to show their age.
Massive restoration projects are now underway across Havana to rescue aging architecture from neglect. The government has spent millions fixing up old hotels, museums and restaurants -- an investment that is expected to pay dividends with new waves of tourists. On Monday, a commercial jet carrying American tourists landed in Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.
The municipal government has zeroed in on cleaning up Havana’s nearly three dozen commercial shopping zones, which are often scattered with litter and show obvious signs of deterioration. The city has announced plans to install more garbage cans on busy avenues, ensure sidewalk sweeping three times a day and plant more trees to beautify downtown streets.
Authorities have also said they intend to crack down on illegal construction, such as rooms and garages haphazardly built onto sidewalks. The government also plans to restrict the use of loudspeakers, which sometimes blast reggaeton into the otherwise peaceful streets.
While those changes may be pleasant for tourists, they don’t address the poor living conditions for thousands of everyday Havanans. Blocks from the newly painted hotels and public fountains, locals can be found living in public housing complexes that are in serious states of disrepair.
Many Cubans can’t afford to put food on the table and live off rations of 22 lbs. of rice each month. In street-side supermarkets, everyday items -- soap, toothpaste, shampoo -- are in short supply.
But a new Cuban leader could set the stage for change. Cuban President Raul Castro, the 85-year-old brother to Fidel Castro, has said he plans to step down in 2018. His successor is expected to be Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s 56-year-old vice-president.
If Diaz-Canel becomes leader, it would be the first time in nearly six decades that a Castro was not in power.
With a report from CTV News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme