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Cuba's housing crisis is systemic and the worst in the Americas

The ONEI, which always fudges the statistics, reports a shortfall of 862,000 dwellings in the country.

Construction of a hotel in El Vedado, Havana.
Construction of a hotel in El Vedado, Havana. Diario de Cuba

Some 10,000 years before our era, with the invention of agriculture, humans ceased to be nomadic, settled in fixed places, and invented permanent solid housing: a roof with four firm walls. Today, in the 23rd year of the third millennium, millions of Cubans do not have decent housing, either owned or rented. They are mired in the worst housing crisis in the West, excluding that in Haiti.

This is what the statistics put out by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), ECLAC, and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) entail, even if they fail to say anything about Cuba.

According to the IDB, in the 242 cities of Latin America and the Caribbean with populations of two million or less, there is a housing shortage of 6%, on average. In Havana it does not fall below 20%.

And this percentage for Havana is surely even higher, since it is based on the deficit of 216,000 housing units reported by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), which always falsifies statistics in order "not to tarnish the image of the Revolution," a phrase coined by "Che" Guevara in early 1960 when, to this end, he ordered misrepresentation of the very low GDP growth in 1959.

The former "Paris of Latin America" is falling apart

Even assuming this official figure to be true, and with three people per dwelling as the average estimated by the ONEI, there are no less than 600,000 people in the Cuban capital without adequate housing, either owned or rented. Thus, they live in the homes of relatives, in run-down collective state shelters, or houses in dreadful condition, propped up and on the verge of collapse; or they have created makeshift shacks in unsanitary, slapped-up shantytowns, with hygiene conditions worse than those in the times of Attila.

At the national level, the ONEI says that the housing deficit is 862,000 properties, but independent sources state that it is no less than 1.2 million. Taking, again, the official deficit, and assuming three people per dwelling, there are some 2.58 million Cubans in Cuba without acceptable housing, either owned or rented.

Havana today is falling apart, and not just figuratively, with the government itself admitting that some 1,000 houses collapse every year in the capital. Many adults and children have been, horribly, crushed to death. There is rubble and filthy dumps everywhere, sewage, ditch-scarred streets and massive, pestilential potholes.

This all stands in stark contrast to the city before 1959, when it was one of the most beautiful and appealing in the world, visited by Hollywood stars like Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Fred Astaire, Walt Disney, and Ava Gardner, who raved about what they called the "Paris of Latin America."

Cuba's international indicators are worse

In another report, the IDB reveals the qualitative housing deficit in Latin America and the Caribbean: homes lacking electricity, 4%; sanitation, 15%; running, potable water, 9%; built with deficient materials, 12%; deficient roofs, 3%; dirt floors, 6%; deficient walls, 2%; overcrowding, 6%; and lacking the necessary infrastructure.

The ECOSOC reports that in Latin America 9% of the population lacks drinking water service, 15% lives in unsanitary neighborhoods, 6% lives in overcrowded conditions, 4% are without electricity, and 5% live "with deficient walls and roofs."
According to the 2012 census, there were 3,785,196 dwellings in Cuba in total, and 35% of them needed repairs, including capital ones. Only 74.4% of them had a drinking water service from an aqueduct, 41% had sewers to dispose of wastewater, 38.3% did so in pits, and of the remaining 21.7% the census says nothing. Only 50.4% of the households had garbage collection service by trucks, and the remaining 49.6% disposed of their garbage in public dumpster or in nauseating street dumps.

In other words, 11 years ago all the housing parameters in Cuba were already worse than those published by the IDB and ECOSOC. And today the situation is much more dire.

In the once fabulous Havana there are now dozens of unhealthy slums, to name a few: Los Pocitos (28,102 inhabitants), El Hueco, Los Sitios (32,700 inhabitants), Cocosolo (31.484 inhabitants), El Fanguito (two square kilometers), Los Mangos, La Timba, La Jata, Palo Cagao, Atarés, La Güinera, El Palenque, La Escalera, Indaya, Cambute, La Isla del Polvo, Alturas del Diezmero, El Tropical, Ruta 11, El Canal, El Plátano, Las Cañas, Núñez, El Casino, La Yuca, La Ceiba, Los Bloques, Jesús María, La Corea, La Cuevita, La Loma

Despite the fact that in recent years more than 450,000 Cubans have emigrated, so the percentage of homeless people has dropped somewhat, the poor state of housing is the same, or worse.

In Cuba, the lack of housing is systemic, a legacy of the "Revolution"

Experts and specialized organizations explain that the lack of adequate housing in a country is a consequence of poverty. True, it is not the fault of the states, since in the normal world, the construction or rental of housing is the responsibility of the private sector.

A normal nation-state builds some low-cost housing for poor families, and takes care of road infrastructure, parks, avenues, aqueducts, street cleaning and occasionally garbage collection. Period.

But Cuba is a maddeningly abnormal country: instead of a nation-state, there is a Communist Party-state that monopolizes housing construction and the production of building materials. The overwhelming majority of the population is extremely poor, suffocated by the totalitarian system.

The Castro government, now financially bankrupt, builds very little housing. In 2022, 20,131 houses were built out of the 48,143 planned. In 2023 the plan is for 25,134 houses, of which 12,770 are to be built by the families who will live in them, but not even a third of the amount slated will ever materialize.

To make matters worse, the mafia in power uses the few construction materials it generates to build hotels, despite the fact that tourism is, ostensibly, declining, exacerbating suspicions that it is laundering dirty money. Of course, it builds apartments for its military and MININT henchmen, or remodels and enlarges the mansions of the dictatorial patriciate, as was recently done with the bunker of the infanta (princess) Mariela Castro.

Housing crisis goes hand in hand with extreme poverty

In terms of poverty, the ECLAC indicates that the countries with the highest poverty rates, after Haiti, are Honduras (20%), Nicaragua (18.3%), Guatemala (15.8%) and Colombia (15.4%).

Cuba does not appear, where poverty is systemic because it is generated by the Communist Party-State itself and is suffered by no less than 95% of the population;  with, believe it or not, the more than 80% of citizens living in extreme poverty, according to UN and World Bank parameters.  

For example, the average Cuban salary is 3,828 pesos ($31.12) per month, and the minimum wage is 2,100 pesos ($17.07). A doctor earns just over 5,000 pesos a month, a research scientist, 5,560 pesos ($45.20 at the official exchange rate of 123 pesos to the dollar).

None of these salaries reaches the minimum of 2.15 dollars a day that the UN now uses to measure extreme poverty. With 2.15 dollars a day, five days a week, a monthly salary of 46.58 dollars is received, which is 15.42 dollars more than the average salary in Cuba, and 1.38 dollars more than that of a senior scientist. Meanwhile, the cost of basic monthly groceries does not fall below 14,000 pesos; that is, 113.82 dollars.

This means that the vast majority of Cubans live in extreme poverty, which explains the severity of the housing crisis. I will address this issue in another article, however, as it touches on the slippery slope of the rich and poor in socialism, and the aggravating aberrations that proliferate under Castroism.

In short, the dramatic Cuban housing crisis is systemic, an effect of the "Revolution", aggravated in extremis by the now definitive, overt and shameless divorce between the millionaire mafia that rules Cuba and its people.

It will continue to get worse, with no real solution possible, as long as this devastating plague remains in charge, preventing Cubans from having a roof over their heads and four walls of their own, like the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia.

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