The impact of rural-urban migration on Old Havana — the very heart of Cuba’s tourist sector — has been particularly significant.
In the early 1990s, Old Havana had approximately 70,000 residents.
Despite Havana’s slow growth policy, by the mid 1990s, planners estimated that about 80,000 people lived in the oldest section of the capital.
Over one-half of these individuals — 40,000 or so — were internal migrants.
- About 13,500 of these residents had lived in the area for over 20 years
- 10,000 of the migrants arrived between 1990 and 1995
[As an aside, it is important to add that while Havana’s share of Cuba’s population in the late 1990s was about 19.8% of the nation’s total, very close to the 20.8% of 1959, it remained much lower than that of some other capital cities in Latin America. The same figure for Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile was more than 30%, while Lima, Caracas, and Mexico City each contained more than 20% of their nation’s population.]
The problem in Old Havana was not just one of overcrowding.
Of the 22,516 dwellings in the area, one-third had no running water.
The technical state of the buildings was alarming. According to a report published in 1996:
- 43% had structural faults in the roof
- 42% had experienced caved-in floors
- 51% had water leaks in the roof or between the floors
- 38% had leaks in walls.
Similar problems could be found in the Dragones neighborhood in Centro Habana which had some 40,00 people living in just over 14,000 homes .
There were many problems associated with high density, including poor hygiene since existing aqueduct and sewer systems were built to serve a population of no more than 10,000.
The president of the local People’s Council said:
We don’t know the exact amount of people living here. We have buildings with about 70 families where the capacity is for 12. Not even in Tokyo or Mexico City are there so many people per square kilometer.
Obviously, there was a great deal of concern over both the existing situation and the continuing trend.
Internal migration was escalating rapidly with larger numbers of internal migrants than in the past setting their sights on establishing a life in Havana.
For much of the revolutionary period, migrants chose to settle in secondary cities or small towns, rather than in Havana itself. By the late 1990s, this pattern was reversing.
There was also concern over another emerging trend which indicated that migrants were beginning to leave adjacent provinces — and even outlying counties of Havana Province — for the capital.
In contrast, prior arrivals came from farther away. The emerging trend suggested a diminishing of jobs and services even for those living fairly close to the core of the city itself.
In fact, investment in outlying areas during much of the Cold War period tended to slow migration to the capital, even enticing some urban residents to leave the city and relocate in the countryside.
Now, in a period of scarcity, pre-revolutionary patterns reasserted themselves.
Cuban authorities quite frankly admit that the socio-economic condition in the 1990s
made it necessary to widen the vision of the Historical Centre. Not only is its historical, cultural and social value to be taken into consideration, but also its economic dimension, as the aim is to achieve self-financed, integrated development which will make investments recoverable and productive . . . . The new perspective has generated the fast growth of a local economy which is basically governmental and the creation of national-foreign joint ventures.
One of the greatest challenges in the current environment is to develop
social housing which will guarantee the permanence of the local population, as a right of its citizens, and because they add their own values to the territory, without which Old Havana would lose a major part of its charm.
Planners believe that one way of achieving this objective is to adequately exploit
the cultural heritage in its quality as an economic good, generating richness and to orient a major part of the funds obtained by the Historian’s Office towards attention to the social problems of the Historical Centre and, especially, towards the solution of the habitat.
Even today, despite the good intentions of socialist planners, the revolutionary government’s need to promote a mixed economy is giving renewed vigor to Havana’s pre revolutionary dualities.
Nowhere is this more clear than in Old Havana where policies enacted in the Special Period contributed to substantial inequalities between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ particularly between those habaneros with access to tourist dollars and those without.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe.
Statistics in this post are drawn from Arq. Patricia Rodriguez Aloma, Viaje en la memoria apuntes para un acercamiento a la habana vieja. (Havana: Plan Maestro Revitalizacion Integral de La Habana Vieja. Officina del Historiador de la Ciudad de la Habana, 1996).
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