HAVANA, Cuba. – Very little is left of the luxury oceanfront neighborhood at Tarará Beach built in the first half of the last century. Of that urban development, all that is left today is less than half of its spacious residences, like spots that stand out amidst 6.8 square miles of construction in ruins.
Although there is a restoration program, workers at the site explained to CubaNet that the plan includes only some of the residences on the first and second row of houses in front of the ocean, which are the ones in highest demand and rental value for international tourism and a domestic elite.
Throughout the years, several such projects have been financed, according to the workers we consulted, but in their implementation, the investment only finance façade touchups and other partial repairs to damages in houses that are still being rented.
“In ten years, less than 30 houses have been restored, and many of those are occupied by government officials whose identity is unknown, and by foreigners who work in Cuba. Rumor has it that they were sold to those individuals under the table,” stated one of the workers, on condition of anonymity, who has been working in Tarará for more than two decades.
In 1960, the regime confiscated all those properties from their legitimate owners. Once that was done, they proceeded to complete construction on some of the unfinished structures, and new ones were also constructed, as well as buildings and hostels to turn Tarará into a School City. According to Arturo Manuel Concepción Vaillant, there are 598 houses in Tarará.
“The director is the only person that knows just how many units there are here, but I am sure that 200 of them are in working order. In other words, about 30% of the total. What’s funny is that the newest units, those built by the government, were the first to be shut down,” according to Concepción, one of the maintenance workers.
An oceanfront paradise
Tarará is located 17 miles west of Havana, between Vía Blanca and an 930 yard-long stretch of beach that has kept the name borrowed from the phonetics of a trumpet sound– Tarará- which was used in the XVI century as the command voice in a copper mine that existed in the area at that time.
Construction of this development lasted between 1912 and 1943, reaching a total of 525 single-dwelling housing units. Tarará was the first gated urban development in Latin America.
By 1950, Tarará was considered one of the most flourishing recreational spots in the island, thanks to the turquoise waters of its beach, pools, yacht clubs, softball field, minimax, gas station, bowling alley and drive-in movie with capacity for 500 vehicles, all amenities that attracted American tourists and the Cuban upper and middle classes.
The end of a golden epoch
Alejandro Montoya Valdés remembers that his father died talking about the properties that Fidel Castro’s government seized from him, among them several pharmacies, food stores and his leisure house in Tarará, which was “the gem of the family”.
“To lose the house at the beach hurt him the most, he never recovered from that. In the midst of his ramblings, he would repeat over and over again that the house where he had begotten his three children had been stolen from him,” states sadly Mr. Montoya, who tried unsuccessfully to sue the Cuban state for the return of the property.
The house, a two-story building, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, garage and green areas, was one of the 508 residences that were expropriated. Only 17 families were successful in having their property rights respected in the select community.
Magalis Vizcaíno Cardoso, one of the maintenance personnel in charge of cleaning the properties that are rented out, states that at the end of the last decade the heirs of one of the former owners won an extensive legal battle where a court returned them their property.
“It’s true that many of these people left Cuba when the revolution came to power, and that made it easier for the state to confiscate these homes. This last residence, after such an arduous battle, the owner committed suicide in early March. She was a physician with no other relatives in Cuba. Now the house is shut down again,” stated Vizcaíno.
Since confiscation of those residences, Tarará became part of government programs. First it was the “City of Students”, whose name was changed in 1975 to “Campamento de Pioneros”, aimed at combining docent activities and recreation, against the backdrop of ideological indoctrination of the students.
In March 1990, Tarará stopped welcoming young pioneers in order to welcome the program for the care of Chernobyl’s nuclear disaster victims, and also operated as an ophthalmological illnesses treatment center, until in 2007, China and Cuba signed an agreement to turn Tarará into student housing for Chinese students.
Getting the most out of it, until the last house collapses
Some years ago, Tarará was returned to the Tourism sector, although it lacked most of the services available before 1959. Due to the drop in international tourism, most house renters are Cuban nationals who are attracted by the food combos that are usually sold to guests by the government.
In comparison to rents for private houses, prices at Tarará are much more inexpensive and families that do not wish to cook can purchase breakfast, lunch and dinner at any of the three restaurants that offer those services.
“A house in Boca Ciega or Guanabo beaches averages between 8,000 and 12,000 pesos per day. Our prices are between 1,000 and 5,000 pesos, sometimes more expensive, depending on the quality of the facilities and the appliances that it provides,” Xiomara Martínez León, one of the rental reps explains.
Regardless, to afford a vacation in Tarará is a complicated matter for Cuba’s working class. According to Leandro Cruz de la Torre, a stay in a three-bedroom house with water supply problems, few appliances and kitchen utensils, without television, air-conditioning or fans, costs more than 5,000 in rent alone.
Mr. Cruz also states that, to the cost of food being sold to guests, an additional 10% commission on the total purchase is charged.
“All they have is white rice, chicken and soda. That’s for lunch and dinner, no changes. For eight people, all meals, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, cost around 1,200 pesos, and that’s an expense you have to incur three times per day. Over a weekend, you can spend a fortune,” stated Cruz, who recently visited Tarará.
“I came because they sell you a box of chicken, ground beef, or whatever they have in the warehouse. The price is different, but when you add to it the rest of the expenses, it’s worse than on the street. On top of that, the houses have a million problems, it’s a headache. They want to get the most out of Tarará, but without investing in improving the conditions,” highlighted Miguel Sosa Castañeda, another guest.
ARTÍCULO DE OPINIÓN
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