HOLGUÍN, Cuba. – “Don’t knock on the door, the hotel is closed,” states a lady. “We are passing through, and we want to sleep in Holguín tonight to continue on our journey tomorrow,” states a couple who is looking for lodging. “That will be very difficult. Here in the city, most hotels are closed,” the lady answers.
The lodging deficit has been a serious and long-time problem in the city of Holguín, with no short-term or long-term solution in sight.
The problem affects travelers and occasional visitors who find it difficult to find overnight lodging in a city with a high volume of transient population.
Sleeping on the benches at bus terminals has been the most available option.
Libertad, Praga and Los Ángeles are the three emblematic hotels in the center of Holguín, and they are abandoned. It’s been more than ten years since they shut down without any hope of recovery.
“There is no budget for their repair,” is the government’s answer to justify this neglect.
The hotels that are still operating, like the Saratoga, charge exorbitant prices that most people cannot afford.
The closure of hotels in the city of Holguín is one more thing to add to the abandonment of other emblematic establishments in downtown Holguín, like the Hanoi store, and the underground crosswalk named Pirijod de Manuel.
The hotels in the center of town were built and managed by private capital. Following their nationalization, or expropriation (as the experts call it) in 1959 by the Castro revolution, state management failed at keeping up the facilities, causing their demise.
Authorities have ignored the advantages of having hotels in Holguín: quick recovery of investment, creation of new jobs and satisfying the needs of the population.
However, they spend millions of dollars in the construction of new hotels at the beach destined for international tourism, where the majority of employees work near the facilities.
Private house rentals have not been the solution for Cubans: high prices are beyond what pensions and salaries can afford the average citizen.
Last Monday, Francisco is in Havana around 9 pm. On the waiting list at the bus terminal, he could only but a ticket to Holguín, the closest place to his final destination which is Santiago de Cuba.
“When I arrived here, there was no transportation to Santiago. I telephoned several hotels in the city. Most of them did not answer, others had no vacancy, and the Saratoga was charging very high prices. I slept on a terminal bench,” states this gentleman, looking very tired.
The Praga Hotel, located at Narciso López Street, between Aguilera and Flexes, has been abandoned for more than six years.
Damages in the building’s foundation are causing it to sink: it was the official reason given when it was closed. A former employee who called himself René, denies that.
“They said there were problems with the foundation. But that is not true. This is a construction that can stand two more stories on top of the one it has. The foundation is two square meters, with very strong columns and beams.”
René worked the last ten years the hotel was operational. He states that its closure was due to hydraulic problems. “There is a water leak. The tanker trucks would fill the hotel’s water deposit. Then it would be pumped to the tanks on the roof, which emptied easily. There was no budget for a new hydraulic system,” states René.
Several holes can be seen from the street where there were once windows. “In the six years the hotel has been closed, everything has been removed slowly. The hotel has 28 guest rooms, one restaurant and a night club. They emptied it from top to bottom. They would park trucks in front of the hotel and would load them with mattresses, beds, air conditioners, doors and window frames. They emptied the place in plain daylight, through the front door and for all to see. No one has ever known where the stuff went. The place was stripped down, no doors or windows were left,” states the former employee.
On the right side of the hotel’s main entrance there is a large metal door that leads to what once was the warehouse of establishment number 627 of the Wholesale Food Products Company (EMPA, by its Spanish acronym).
The huge warehouse, which was the Hatuey beer distributing company in Holguín between 1948 and 1959, has long been forgotten. On the door, someone wrote with chalk “Psalm 57:1,” a reference to the Old Testament that states: “Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.”
The biblical reference has been interpreted by some as a demand to authorities to rescue the establishment.
The level of neglect has been such that since the hotel shut down, the hotel’s electric sign has not been removed, not even during hurricanes.
The square sign with the illustration of a bed on it is still nailed to a post in front of the building. This has caused confusion among visitors who knock on the hotel’s door. When nobody answers them, they ask the neighbors, who then inform them that the hotel is closed.
The building and the beer distributing company belonged to José A. Patallo Cerviño, whose first last name –Patallo- was the name of the hotel. In 1959, the hotel was confiscated and renamed “Praga”. That moment is described as the beginning of the end.
Another hotel that is victim of the same government neglect is the Libertad, a centric hotel located on the area of the. Boulevard that lies between Martí and Luz y Caballero streets.
The deterioration of the building for lack of maintenance and repairs prevented it from continuing to provide lodging and gastronomical services.
A wire is tied to a chain that closes the front door, and is the unmistakable indication that the hotel is closed and abandoned.
The hotel suffered problems with the carpentry, the electrical system, as well as the hydro-sanitary installations. “We began by closing down some of the guest rooms, but the time came when all guest rooms had problems and we had to close down the hotel,” states Laura, a former hotel employee, to CubaNet.
The Libertad was included in the maintenance and repairs plan for 2014, but in the end, nothing was done. “We were told in a meeting that year that the budget was already approved. However, the months passed and nothing came of it,” adds Laura.
The hotel was closed and most of its employees were re-assigned to less-paying positions. “People were very upset. Almost all of them asked to be laid off, looking for better salaries. I started doing business on the street, and I am still doing it because I have not found employment in any hotel,” she states.
A few blocks down, the same thing is happening with the Los Ángeles Hotel, located on Frexes Street, between Maceo and Mártires.
Filth and deterioration were the reason for its closing in 2012. After performing some superficial repairs, they reopened it in mid 2013. But a few months later, it closed for good due to its increasing deterioration.
Back then, Carmen Wisimian was the general secretary of the workers’ union in the hotel. “I remember that she informed the government in letters she addressed to officials, to the Central Labor Union (CTC, by its Spanish acronym), to the sector director, and to the Municipal Gastronomical Company, to no avail,” states a former employee on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, to CubaNet.
In downtown Holguín, only the Turquino Hotel and the Saratoga Hotel are operational. The first one has no available vacancies. The second one, which charges 4,530 Cuban pesos per night and includes only breakfast, is unaffordable for the majority of Cubans whose maximum basic salary is less than 10,000 Cuban pesos per month.
The Majestic Hotel is reserved for nurses who are training to fulfill medical missions outside Cuba. The Santiago Hotel, the Caballeriza Hotel and the Esmeralda Hotel are closed for repairs.
“I graduated from the Hotel and Tourism School in Holguín, but I have been working in unrelated jobs for a long time because there are no jobs in the field I studied; it’s the same with many of my colleagues,” states a young man who identified himself as Luis.
He blames his poor luck on state mismanagement. “The government is responsible for the closing of hotels in this town. It gave them no maintenance and allowed them to deteriorate, and now we and the people who live here have to pay for their ineptitude. If the hotels were managed by private owners, this would not have happened,” states Luis.
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