Elisa and Lesyanis, her 12-year-old daughter, live in a building in the old town. It is one of 700 buildings in the Cuban capital listed as being in critical condition. According to official figures, 37% of the country’s 3.9 million homes were in poor or very poor condition at the end of 2020.
“I have already lost a child” to illness, “I don’t want to lose my daughter”, tells AFP Elisa, who lives in “Residence Cuba”, a 1940 building located in the “Habana Vieja” district. .
The six-storey building, owned by the state, like the majority of buildings on the communist island, has 114 small rooms and is home to 92 families who do not have to pay rent.
According to locals, the building was once an elegant hotel. Today, floors are crumbling, ceilings and passageways show their rusty metal skeleton, cracks and leaks are visible all over the walls.
The children “can’t even play, because here, from time to time, a piece (of the building) comes off”, laments Elisa Bacyan, with tears in her eyes.
Buildings collapse regularly in certain districts of Havana. In 2020, the fall from a balcony of a building in the old town caused the death of three little girls, arousing great emotion in the country.
Other buildings continue to resist despite their deplorable state. A “miraculous aesthetic”, ironically told AFP a building expert who requested anonymity.
“Residence Cuba” has “structural defects from floor to ceiling” and “it is not recommended that people live there”, underlines this specialist who predicts that “partial collapses will continue to occur there”.
In this building as in many others, the construction of mezzanines, bathrooms and cisterns considerably increase the weight resting on the buildings.
– Fully dressed –
There are also more rockfalls during hurricane season from June to November. The first rains of June caused 146 partial collapses of buildings and two in total in the capital, causing the death of a sixty-year-old man, according to official media.
Cary Suarez, 57, arrived at Residence Cuba in 1997 after the apartment building where she lived collapsed. She took her children to school but her mother died in the disaster.
“Living through all this and being about to relive a new (collapse) is very difficult,” she laments.
“We have exhausted all possible avenues and we have no answer,” Francisca Peña, 54, told AFP, responsible for contacting the authorities on behalf of the residents. She recognizes that the “economic crisis that the country is going through makes everything more difficult”.
The 50-year-old says she sleeps fully clothed in case she has to “run out” of the building and that it has happened several times that all the tenants rush outside after hearing a suspicious “noise”.
“I have dark circles under my eyes, I can’t sleep, I live waiting for a section (of the building) to come off,” says Luvia Diaz, a 50-year-old social worker who lives crammed into the last floor with her companion, her three daughters and a grandson.
Heavy rains in early June caused the ceiling in his bedroom to partially collapse, falling onto a bed. “If my daughter had been sleeping, there would have been a tragedy.”
All the inhabitants share their fears but the story of “Pumpa”, 31, who refused to reveal his identity, is the most terrible.
At two years old, sitting in the hallway on the first floor, she received a piece of ceiling on the head and had to undergo a cranial reconstruction operation.
“I’m afraid to live here (…) because the second time, I won’t survive,” she said, cleaning her home.