Havana Blues

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Storm waves recently flung jellyfish and seaweed onto the streets of Havana. After the storm, temperatures plunged to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, unusually cold weather for the Caribbean island.

“This really is something new … we’re not used to this kind of cold,” Havana resident Jaqueline Dalardes told Reuters near Havana’s Malecon esplanade. “The climate has changed.”

As Cuba faces harsher meteorological conditions, much of their housing stock is at risk of crumbling. Humidity, storms, and poor maintenance have undermined many of the island’s stately old homes, while Cuba’s poor economy has failed to ignite housing development.

Last year, for example, an old house collapsed in Havana, killing three people, reported the Associated Press. Thirteen families lived in the house. Today, many Havana residents live in fear of their domiciles collapsing around them, too.

Meanwhile, authorities have evicted tenants from buildings that inspectors fear will collapse without structural renovations, added the Havana Times, a Nicaragua-based independent news outlet that covers Cuba.

Renovations cost money, however. Unfortunately, most Cubans lack capital to spend on improving their housing.

Speaking to France 24, Chatham House fellow Christopher Sabatini argued that the island’s deteriorating buildings reflect a cratering of its economy in general. The communist authorities who run the country have permitted half of the housing stock to become substandard, he said.

These problems linger as the Cuban government doubles down on social policies related to the United Nations’ sustainable development goals for 2030, wrote Prensa Latina, a Cuban government-owned news service.

The Cuban government recently expanded maternity and paternity leave benefits by three months to a total of 15 months, for instance. The quality of the country’s medical system is world-renowned. Health-related exchanges with regional neighbors like Brazil and Jamaica are among the country’s most successful diplomatic efforts.

Many would blame Cuba’s economic troubles on the American economic embargo that has long suppressed its growth. The embargo reflects Cold War enmities that have helped Russia and Cuba retain ties since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Russians are key to Cuba’s vital tourism industry, its most important source of foreign currency. Offered fat paychecks while they languish in unemployment, Cubans are even fighting in Russian forces in Ukraine, CNN reported.

China has also invested mightily in Cuba, to build a better relationship with a traditional antagonist of the US. At the Torch, the student newspaper at St. John’s University, an editorial writer called for the end of the embargo to prevent China from taking Russia’s place.

Still, that’s unlikely, wrote Robert Looney, professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, in World Politics Review. That’s because Cuba has little to offer Beijing, which tends not to grant selfless favors, especially as it faces economic headwinds.

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