Havana’s Gran Hotel Manzana: A Slap in the Face

May 29, 2017 |

In the face of a luxury hotel opening in Cuba, and the Government taking advantage of this situation, official media have adopted their typical “mote that is in your brother’s eye” attitude.

By Alejandro Armengol

Havana on the inside. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — With Raul Castro’s government in power, Cubans are now less equal than others, but among them: it’s still very hard to be like a foreigner. What a country to establish itself as a colony and metropolis at the same time, while declaring its own citizens inferior to others.

At the 7th Cuban Communist party congress that took place last year, the government recognized the existence of private property in regard to certain modes of production and the rise of the private economic sector. However, it also made it very clear that it was forbidden for any Cuban citizen to pool assets and wealth. That is to say, it’s forbidden to be rich… although there are rich Cubans and they themselves say as much, but official Cuban media doesn’t.

With such a law, much more was established than a mere legal framework, which exists in any country, a straitjacket was placed on progress too. While legal property was granted to private modes of production, not only was accumulating property banned, but accumulating wealth too.

Although, on the other hand, the government increasingly needs and depends on the rich. It has always been like this, but beforehand, certain countries served this function with their subsidies, financial aid or simply by giving funds. Now that this path has narrowed down to one street, doors to millionaires have never been more open.

The Kempinski run Gran Hotel Manzana, a super luxury hotel in front of the Parque Central and Havana’s Gran Teatro, is the last indication of ordinary Cubans’ inferior status in our society. Meanwhile, the “other” – visitors, foreign tourists – continues to be the privileged, while ordinary Cubans see their role reduced to their eternal role of “outsider”. Where the distinction used to be made by a doorman beforehand, who used to say that entrance was “only for tourists”, now everyone knows that this place is “only for the rich”.

It just so happens that it is very easy to be poor in Cuba but nearly impossible to be rich. This also happens in other parts of the world, you could argue and you’re right, but then at least official media would save you their out-of-date rhetoric.

The new Havana Gran Hotel Manzana (c).

In the face of signs of showing off luxury – which the government and especially the ruling elite, such as military leaders, are benefitting from – Cuban press have at least three dominant trends.

One of which is to ignore them. For example, Granma still hasn’t even mentioned the opening of the new 5-star-plus hotel on Manzana de Gomez.

The second is to adopt a village priest attitude and stereotypical and provincial viewpoint, with the argument of “poor but happy” or “you the rich and we the poor”.

The third is the typical biblical attitude of “the mote that is in your brother’s eye”.

An example of this? On May 22nd, Juventud Rebelde newspaper published that the hotel inauguration “forms part of a strategy that will allow Cuba to attract a high quality market.” Using the euphemism “high quality”, they are referring to those who are able to pay $440 per person a night for a basic room and $2485 for a presidential suite, in a country where the average monthly salary is around $29.

However, before that, on March 27th, the same newspaper published an article – with the headline – about the luxury Dynamic Tower Hotel in Dubai, where it stated: “It’s just that, in the midst of a region subjected to bloody wars, with tens of thousands of people dead and millions of displaced refugees, a building like this could be seen as a slap in the face, a human misery, which highlights the poverty that even Aladdin’s lamp hasn’t been able to get rid of…”.

And with the obvious exceptions, can’t we say the same thing about the Kempinski’s Gran Hotel Manzana, in the middle of an impoverished and crumbling Havana?

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  • John Saynor

    I am a Canadian who has visited Cuba many times in the past 32 years. I now spend three months in Guanabo every winter. I know that we in Canada enjoy a very good quality of life. I also know that Cuban’s for the most part have a difficult time surviving on what they are paid by the state. I think I have a pretty good idea how things work in Cuba in terms of how people do actually get by. But I am appalled by this hotel and by the other examples of extreme wealth that, I agree, is a slap in the face to the vast majority of Cubans. When I sit on the beach and watch the privately owned yachts cruise by so as to be seen by Cubans sitting on the beach, I am disgusted by this ostentatious display of wealth that I happen to think comes from across the Straights of Florida. I think that not much can be done about this. The horse has been let out of the barn, as we say up here, but I just want people like Alejandro to know that Cubans aren’t the only ones who feel this way and that many of us who consider Cuba our second home, share my feelings.

    • Paul O’Marra-McElhinney

      Well said John.

    • Juliet von Finckh

      Very nice John

    • Dan

      I agree

  • Ryan Ross

    So I guess the point is that Cuba is no different than the US, where many, many live in poverty, don’t have enough to eat, can’t afford a nice (or any) place to live, get paid sh#$ wages, can’t afford college (well, that’s not the same, is it?), see the wealthy flaunting their riches in fancy homes, cars, hotels and spend insane amounts of money on trivialities, such as golf weekends to Mar a Lago, etc; in short, you’re saying socialism is no better than capitalism?

    • Pamela

      Excellent analogy and it will never change until the poor and middle class decide enough is enough and start to vote for responsible people.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        This Pamela is the Havana Times – if you wish to write criticisms of the US, then the New York Times would be more appropriate. The contributors to these pages are not all oppressed Americans.

        • Rich Haney

          Carlyle, at any point in your life have you ever tolerated people who have opinions that differ from yours? PAMELA, I believe, has a right to her opinion. I’m sorry you disagree.

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            You are correct in supporting freedom of speech Rich Haney. Now why do you not support it for the people of Cuba and oppose the repression they suffer?
            Pamela certainly has the right to her opinions I don’t disagree with that, but her contribution was a response to the comment by Ryan Ross and concerned the US not Cuba.
            As you well know, Americans have a tendency to use the Havana Times as a means of venting their spleen upon their own country and the governments that they and their fellow Americans elect.
            As a believer in free speech, I have listened to the views of others all my life. Your problem Rich Haney is that you are intolerant of those who fail to agree with the imposition of communism in Cuba, and I admittedly am one of them.
            I have friends and relatives of various political persuasions and we discuss our differences openly – but none of them are I admit, communists. All of them believe in the democratic process.

          • Rich Haney

            I assume I’m far more anti-communist than you, Carlyle, and I also assume that when you have trouble winning arguments your only stand-by is to call people vile, made-up names. I still say that Pamela has a right to express opinions in any forum anyone else does, and I still say Cubans on the island do not deserve to be dictated to by holier-than-thou preachers off the island.

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            “Cubans on the island do not deserve to be dictated to by holier-than-thou preachers off the island.”
            With that Rich Haney I totally agree, so when are you going to cease your prattle? Although you fail to acknowledge it, Cubans have been the subjects of dictatorship for fifty eight years.
            Unlike you, I know Cuba because my home is there, I know the reality.
            You say that I “call people vile, made up names.” Do please list them.

    • Olgasintamales

      Well, the news I think is that in the “Proletarian paradise” people are living like the hell hole that is USA. The Castro monarchy give the right to “free” education if you pretend to support the king Castro policies. My question is how the government got all the materials to build a luxury hotel when USA has a horrible “Embargo” “blockade” against the poor people of Cuba?

      • rodrigvm

        Hotel,was built jointly with external capital…

        The ostentation of wealth happens everywhere including Puerto Rico a “showcase do US” democracy and the highest murder rate in the US.

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          Actually rodrigvm the Virgin Islands have the highest murder rate at 39.2 murders per 100,000 people.
          With the exception of the Cote d’Ivoire the first seven countries with the highest murder rates are Latin American:
          Honduras 82.1 per 100,000
          El Salvador 66.0
          Cote d’Ivoire 56.9
          Jamaica 52.1
          Venezuela 49.0 (Excluding Maduro’s military and police shootings)
          Belize 41.7
          Guatemala 41.4
          The ownership of the Hotel Manzana is Gaviota a subsidiary of GAESA.

          • rodrigvm

            Kepinski and Gaviota the armed forces company…but right about murder rate Puerto Rico’s population declined because hundreds of thousands left because of crisis violence etc Median age increased therefore lower crimes.. in general But much much higher than Cuba!

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            Kepinski are not owners.yes, their investment was necessary to restore and improve the building which they manage by contract.

    • Moses Patterson

      There is one exception to your conclusion: Here in the US, we have a choice. Even though at times we choose poorly (Trump), we have the opportunity to decide for ourselves how we choose to live and be governed. Cubans don’t have this choice.

      • Rich Haney

        In other words, Moses, the extreme poor in the U. S. have made the choice to be extremely poor. Your logic is so skewed against Cuba that it affects your other illogical conclusions.

        • Moses Patterson

          That’s not what I wrote. Many of the people whom you have called “extreme poor” have little or no choice in their plight. However, the greater population of Americans do have a choice to elect politicians who lead us and determine policy, including policy regarding how we treat those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

      • Mark Williams

        What? Homeless people have a choice? I was in SF a couple of weeks ago; tents in the streets, and hundreds of people begging, many quite clearly mentally sick. You don’t ‘choose how you live’ you just choose another representative of Big Money to make sure your tax dollars go straight into an offshore bank account.
        Cuba is a long way from democracy, to its shame, and a very long way from putting in place the commercial engines it needs to generate wealth. And yes, its communism is fairer to some than others. But in terms of inequality, the USA is showing the whole world how badly you can treat poor and vuilnerable people and get away with it.

        • Moses Patterson

          I live in San Francisco. To some extent, greater for some than others, being homeless is indeed a result of personal choices. That said, the opportunity to change your circumstances still exists in the US. For Cubans, these opportunities simply do not exist.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Until now Ryan Ross, I thought that your political blindness only affected one eye, but now sadly I realise that it is total. You are unable to address the reality that can be seen in Cuba, because in your minds eye it is the US that is important. This is the Havana Times, not the New York Times.

  • Dan Makgow Smith

    I agree with the author of this article. I was there in March and I described the situation as an eye-opener. Havana is either falling apart or is luxurious. The rubble of buildings that people live in daily is no reflection on them, but the government simple ignoring them and making them fend for themselves. We stayed in Cienfuegos for 4 nights in a Casa Particular which was pretty normal and a nice location. The Cuban people there are great and are able to make the best out of a bad situation, no thanks to the government though.

  • Moses Patterson

    This hotel is just the latest example of a long history of Castro hypocrisy. While Fidel himself maintained his 2 yachts and private islands, he foisted upon the Cuban people a false humility. Castro family members continue to jet set around the world while Cubans are being asked to tighten their belts as Venezuelan subsidies disappear. This “slap in the face” is nothing new for Cubans.

    • Rich Haney

      But, Moses, you didn’t add that Fidel also had about a trillion dollars in various banks all over the world, 50 and not just 2 luxury yachts, owned not only private islands but also some foreign nations, and also owned at least a hundred or so private jets. I wonder if you have any photos, videos or other documentations to support your claims or are you just exercising the perceived right to make up anything about Cuba and assume it is all to be believed.

      • Moses Patterson
        • Carlyle MacDuff

          Actually Moses Cayo Piedra is two islands joined by a 700′ long bridge. The swimming pool is on the island where his guests stayed.

        • Rich Haney

          GOOD. I believe you do not have a retort or a bully-accusation to assault an opinion different from yours…at least this time. Who, by the way, did he bequeath that island and those luxury yachts to?

          • Moses Patterson

            Who gives a flying fish whom that tyrant left his island(s), his yachts, his Rolex, or his remaining year’s supply of adult diapers to? This thread is about the hypocrisy of the Castro regime.

          • Rich Haney

            Did you ABSOLUTELY set the ground-rules for any and all discussions about Cuba, Moses? That’s a bit hypocritical, even for a self-ordained genius.

          • Moses Patterson

            There is no need to set ground rules regarding whether or not most comments are relevant to the thread. Just an 8th grade level in reading comprehension. Genius does not come by way of ordination. It is God-given.

  • chekwube

    Hotels are facilities constructed for paying guests/visitors/travelers. Why should a Cuban wish to pay for a hotel room if he already has a home?

    After the Soviet Union’s collapse, as Cuba found herself completely isolated, the leadership and Cuban people made the decision to pause the advancement of socialism. Thus, a consensus was reached to defend the socialist gains while realistically accommodating markets and capitalists. Revenue from this hotel and others is necessary to defend socialist gains in education, health, security etc.

    Cubans like the owner of La Guarida restaurant have made fortunes within the present Cuban context and can easily afford rooms in the latest luxury hotel. If the author wishes, he should draw lessons, apply for an appropriate business licence, and make enough money to stay in a luxury hotel.

    • Ronin

      Are you kidding???!!!!!!!! Not even upper middle class tourist can afford those prices. The ridiculous price of staying at this new hotel’s cheapest rate for a week is enough to finance a tourist for a moth if they stayed at a private home, including airfare.

      For anyone staying at ANY hotel at these rates, money must be so plentiful that throwing it away like that must not even be a second thought.

      I highly doubt that any Cuban living on the island would pay these kind of prices even if they are rich, specially considering that you could buy a small house in Cuba for the price of one week’s stay.

      And are you seriously asking, “Why should a Cuban wish to pay for a hotel room if he already has a home?” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Well, here is an thought to ponder: Maybe they are visiting Havana and their hometown is on the other end of the Island. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Just like people around the world, a Cuban when away from home needs a place to rest. Why would an American wish to pay for an hotel room if he already has a home?
      The people of Cuba never reached the concensus you chekwube, describe. The dictator at that time, one Fidel Castro, described the plight of the people as a “special period” and even further reduced the meagre food rations.
      My wife was teaching in a town over 100 km from her home. Each Saturday she filled a bag with illicit rum and found transport of the usual variety in Cuba and travelled home to sell the illicit rum usually taking about four hours. When there, she bought some eggs and each Sunday travelled back to the town taking another four hours to where she worked and sold the eggs. Doing this was a major contribution in sustaining her parents and other members of the family.
      Where you are absolutely correct is in explaining that it is necessary for the “Socialismo” regime to obtain funding from the capitalist societies. Cuba is dependent upon capitalism.
      To suggest that the Cuban people decided to “pause the advancement of socialism” is a failure to recognize that they were in a position similar to lemmings – the cliff edge loomed!
      The only way to prove that the people of Cuba wish to retain communist dictatorship is to allow freedom of the media, freedom of expression and open free multi-party elections. You as an evident worshipper of dictatorship (providing that it is socialist) will no doubt disagree. Why?

  • Gerard Matthews

    Just how much longer must the Cuban people put up with all this inequality? I have been so very lucky to have been able to visit Cuba and meet some great people, however not all Cubans are great people and the same goes for people from simply every other country i have been lucky enough to visit. However, most Cuban people deserve so much better, just how much longer are the Cuban people going to put up with the way that they are being treated by their own Government? The Cuban people are being treated as second class citizens in their own country, how much longer are they going to tolerate this? Very shortly all those who can relate back to the period of the revolution will be dead and buried, and the next generation will demand better treatment and will not put up with being treated as second class citizens in their own country. The wind of change will start blowing sooner rather than later. The younger generation have a different mindset.

  • Moses Patterson

    There were several sources to choose from that support these facts. I simply chose the first one on the list. I was not aware of the Daily Mail history you shared. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Despite this publication’s biases, the facts are still the facts.

  • Rich Haney

    Moses, I think you and Carlyle need to connect and rehearse y’all’s Cuban propaganda to make it sound a little more authentic.

    • Moses Patterson

      You seem to be struggling to keep up with factual and independent exchanges. A proper rebuttal should include a detailing of what you would consider to be more “authentic”.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        Even Rich Haney in his political myopia should understand that as far as propaganda is concerned, the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba has the edge over we mere observers.
        The difference between Rich Haney and you and I, is that he depends upon hearsay not upon the experiences that you and I share. However Moses it does provide opportunity to again provide that analysis of Rich Haney and his ilk that a black American Richard Wright gave:

        “An hour’s listening disclosed the fanatical intolerance of minds sealed against new ideas, new facts, new feelings, new attitudes, new hints at ways to live. They denounced books they had never read, people they had never known, ideas they could never understand, and doctrines they could not pronounce.”

        Wright gave his conclusions following his brief membership of the Communist Party of the USA. He ended by writing:

        “Communism instead of making them leap forward with fire in their hearts had frozen them at an even lower level of ignorance than had been theirs before they met Communism.”

        • Moses Patterson

          Well said.

        • Rich Haney

          My “political myopia” as you call it is actually a strong belief that bullies should not pick on people in a small country perceived as inferior to the exalted opinions that bullies typically have of themselves.

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            Well Rich Haney, quit picking on the repressed people of Cuba! They have sufficient challenge endeavoring to survive under the Castro dictatorship without people like you who seek only to support the Castro regime and further increase the misery.
            You have in the past claimed to be a Republican – and I thought that was an endeavour at humour. However I can believe that you are a supporter of the narcisstic bully boy Donald Trump and are endeavoring to emulate his positions.

  • N.J. Marti

    That hotel is not designed to exploit Cubans. It is designed to exploit tourist willing to pay up. Those dollars if used wisely benefit society. Cuba could use many more such hotels and a 100,000 millionaires to tax. This fantasy of equality of wealth is nonsense. A lot of social good can take place in a country with a wealthy cohort.

  • I believe in free open market economics and capitalism. If there is a market for 400-1000 CUC a night hotel rooms, I have no problem with any business satisfying that need.

    I don’t like hotels and prefer casas. While I love Cuba, Havana is not my favorite place. So I will never stay there but that hotel certainly does not bother me being there.

    Some are socialists or communists and prefer a flat economic structure with a small differentiation between the highest and lowest tiers. Others like me are capitalists and realize that will always cause a substantial differentiation between the highest and lowest economic tiers. But you must pick one or the other. You can’t have the advantages of both. Neither system provides any validity to being negative to another simply because they have greater financial resources than you.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    Don’t miss your chance Nick to vote for Jeremy Corbyn who is what President Donald J. Trump(f) would describe as “a loser”.
    I don’t know if the British Communist Party still publishes ‘The Daily Worker’ but I do recall its Deputy Editor one Basil Large who married a Conservative Scottish farmer’s daughter. When they were courting, the father-in-law to be managed to be kept quiet, but as a wedding gift presented them with 600 acres in Lincolnshire.
    End of the story?
    Large became an instant capitalist and all the Communist baloney went out of the window.
    I would have thought that Pravda would now take precedence over the ‘Daily Mail’. Funny how the ‘Daily Mail’ readership was always a multiple of that of the ‘Daily Worker’.
    Maybe you can tell Rich Haney where he can get the ‘Daily Worker’?

  • Ryan Ross

    “The Cuban people haven’t made a real decision for themselves since 1959.” And earlier you wrote, “the greater population of Americans do have a choice to elect
    politicians who lead us and determine policy, including policy regarding
    how we treat those at the bottom of the economic ladder.” The US does have that facade, but the way the system has evolved in this capitalist “paradise” it is only a ruse. Good enough to fool you, I guess. But the “leaders” here bought their positions; and the clown in the White House represents only a fraction of the country (didn’t even garner a majority of the votes). Your wonderful capitalism.

    • Moses Patterson

      I share your criticism of my current President. But, despite the systems recent failings, over the past 70 years, US democracy has largely delivered on its promises. In the same time frame, Cuba has been a Dictatorship.

  • Moses Patterson

    I believe no of those ridiculous claims. I do believe, based on far more credible evidence than that presented by the Daily Mail, that Fidel Castro was an obscenely wealthy dictator. One such “reputable, believable” source: Forbes magazine.

  • Thot Police

    What do I need to do, in order to be rich, in Cuba?

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Leave. Go to a capitalist country, make money and return to Cuba.