Fidel Castro’s Cuba

Havana, Cuba

Julio 26, 2013

Domenica Velasco and Ana Paola Hernandez



A nations heritage is its spirit: Buildings can not be blamed for their past

Fidel Castro’s Cuba

              54 years ago Cuba was frozen in time. In 1959, Former Cuban President, Fidel Castro, took control of the country under a communist regime. Castro’s strong ideas troubled foreign affairs, causing investments and national capital to decrease. What used to be an ideal travel destination for millions of people around the world became the forgotten island of the Caribbean Sea. The once admirable capital of Cuba, Havana (which was at the peak of its economic growth and ultimately architectural development) decayed during Fidel Castro’s dictatorship. If political leadership and global connections are main factors in a country’s progress, and buildings’ ability to stand and live in the presence of citizens are goals in architecture, then it is through architecture that we can determine Cuba’s shortcoming growth, not only economically or politically, but also in the physical growth of the city itself; it’s culture, and it’s arts.

            In defense of Cuba, one could say early 20th century Cuba was a global power and the strongest developing country of its time. During the 1950’s, money flowed through its economy generously. Cuba’s leading sugar production allowed its agriculture to flourish. Free education dominated any other public education system in Latin America, with it’s recorded 99.8% literacy rate. Cuba was among the world’s nations with the highest number of doctors per capita. The island had the lowest child mortality rate in Latin America and was the third lowest in the world, trailing only the United States and Canada.

              During Fidel Castro’s campaign for power, he promised the people of Cuba he would restore the Cuba’s 1940 constitution. He promised to “create an honest administration, reinstate full civil and political liberties, and undertake moderate reforms” (Britannica Encyclopedia). However, through his leftist methods Castro’s ideals took a more radical approach: “private commerce and industry were nationalized; sweeping land reforms were instituted; and American businesses and agricultural estates were expropriated” (Britannica Encyclopedia). Nelson Lowry, a well known Sociologist and literacy professor in Latin American studies presents in his book “The Measure of Revolution” a careful insight into the economic, social and political consequences the Cuban revolution brought upon its people. The revolution in Cuba, Lowry claims, was weak and even upsetting to many of the very citizens that once supported it. Fidel Castro spoke without knowing the difference between imagining the perfect city and building it.

               Once in power, Fidel Castro decided to bring an art institution to Cuba, as many of his Soviet Union friends had. To do so, he embarked in an extraordinary challenge. Castro began the construction of the National Art Schools project. Located in a magnificent landscape, Castro intended to create a beautiful space full of experiences; opened in design, as the revolution was. However, the plan soon faded when he realized Cuban’s economy was no longer strong enough to maintain the citizens’ interests in the coming project. The building was striving to invite citizens whose daily necessities were sadly far from including the arts. As the documentary “Unfinished Spaces” agrees, this forgotten and denied project can only now, without Fidel’s regime, be undertaken once more as a “visionary architecture masterpiece”.

               Only a year after Fidel Castro had gained power, the United States announced their commercial, economic and political embargo against Cuba, the new communist nation. Focused only on his ideals, Fidel neglected the country’s foreign affairs. Once Fidel decided to close all outside relations, he isolated the country from technological, cultural and social development. With all of Castro’s efforts to create his promising communist country, he failed both his country and his people. It was only a decade ago that the collapse of different communist forces began; Cuba too reached its point of collapse. The radical communist regimes were broken down by the same people that participated in them, proving the system inefficient. The corrupt officials, black-markets and robberies that were promised to disappear, are more rampant now than ever before. The communication and information censorship that were established to protect citizens from the “bad” in the world, only made them blind and ignorant, preventing them to act towards improvement. Most Cubans do not understand the world beyond Caribbean boundaries and therefore cannot understand the relationship between living conditions today and those 50 years ago. If Raul Castro, Cuba’s current president, allows Cuba to face the worlds reality, they will become a better country than what they were under Fidel Castro.

               During Fidel’s regime, the country faced the need for food. Even though Cuba is primarily an agricultural country, they were still not big enough to produce the amount of food necessary to feed the 11 million citizens that lived in the island (Central Intelligence Agency). Without foreign trade, Cubans looked within their own borders to gather food. Since businesses and construction projects slowed down during these 50 years, Cubans began to use the land inside the city of Havana to grow their food, be it in their own backyards or even parking lots. Cubans were able to respond to a crisis, as Vanessa Quirk claims in her article “Urban Agriculture: What Cuba can teach us” published in Arch Daily. Cubans sow urban agriculture as a visible course of action, before it had been established as a viable alternative for feeding a community. If Cubans were able to incorporate the early civilizations’ “guide to urban design”, they can undoubtedly redesign Cuba to be the promising place it was 54 years ago.

               Not only are the people willing to improve, but also the current president Raul Castro announced on September 12, 2013 that the vast Capitolio, one of the most iconic buildings in Havana and once seen as a symbol of bourgeois excess, will become the new home of Cuba’s Communist parliament. Even though it represented the authoritarian and corrupt government of the 20th century, no one ever touched it during the violent protests that spread through the city of Havana. The magnificence of the neoclassical Capitolio reminds people of the beauty of Cuba. By changing the ink walls to Internet point, the six million dollar renovation symbolizes the beginning of a new Cuba.

               American cars and architectural buildings of the 50’s that once boasted about the wealth of the city of Havana, became the most noticeable symbols of its decay. For this reason it is through the reestablishment of the city’s collective spaces that Cuba can be restored to its former glory. A nation’s heritage is its spirit, buildings can not be blamed for their past, Raul Castro understands the significance of a country’s beauty, and thanks to that, Cuba will soon take its lead again.


Havana Square: Solitude





“Square: Solitude”
An empty square in need of attention. Havana, Cuba.









“Tired at School”
Cuban children can attend school for free.









“Urban planting”
Food being grown within the city of Havana.



cuba multicolor






Joy is brought to old buildings by colorful facades.



“School Break”
A small boy takes a break from school classes”













“Natural Paradise”
Cuba has some of the most beautiful natural landscape





Annotated Bibliography

Cuba is considered to be country to be frozen in the past. Former Cuba Dictator, Fidel Castro, governed the country under a socialist regime for almost 50 years. His rule lead the country to trouble foreign affairs, causing business to go down and investors’ to go elsewhere.  What used to be a beautiful Island is no longer a place of attraction. The strict leadership roll Fidel Castro took caused the country, especially the rich capital city, Havana to stop growing, and thus for the architecture development rest and in some ways decay. Throughout this research project we will analyze how political leadership, and global connections are a main factor in the development of cities not only economically but also in the growth of the city itself, it’s culture and arts.

Walking alongside Convento de Santa Clara on Luz street
“Havana, a city once spectacular, is literally falling apart”\
Wilmeth, Holly.  Havana, a city once spectacular, is literally falling apart. 2012. Photograph. Marti Noticias, Havana. Web. 9 Sep 2013.



1. Urban Agriculture Part I: What Cuba Can Teach Us

Quirk, Vanessa. “Urban Agriculture Part 1: What Cuba can Teach US.” Arch Daily, May 24, 2012. (accessed September 22, 2013).

The world’s urban environment is spreading rapidly, threatening farmland and shortening fossil fuel availability. Today’s ordinary citizen have no knowledge of where food is produced or how it arrives to their nearby stores. The whole process massive profit oriented corporations undergo is hidden, preventing the world from an immediate reality. In order for cities to flourish and future citizens to thrive without food shortages, we can use design to change our urban relationship with food. As Cuban history has shown us, once city dwellers take responsibility and government official’s aids through urban agriculture regulation, urban design can successfully shorten both the physical and conceptual distance between our food and us.

Even though Cuba is not perfect, their crucial need for food forced them to redesign their agriculture processes in a way the rest of the world should look to.

2. Cuba: what will happen after Castro?

Habel, Janette. “Cuba: what will happen after Castro?.” Le Monde Diplomatique. (2004). (accessed September 22, 2013).

A decade ago Cuba reached the point of collapse, as the same time other communist forces were being destroyed. Socialism has not proved yet to be an effective system. The idea of a city in witch everyone has the same rights over everything prevented cities to develop. Evidently, twenty percent of Cubans live on the poor urban fringes. Black-market dealership and rubbery are both frequent. The society is not advancing has Fidel Castro claims it has or will. In fact, International relations were broken as Fidel Castro gained control of Cuba. This caused both communications and information from the rest of the world to be restricted in Cuban land. Most Cuban citizens do not know what is happening outside of the Caribbean Island, and therefore cannot realize how bad is their living conditions have become in the past 50 years.

3. Cuba’s capitol: Ink wells v Internet points

Rainsford, Sarah. “Cuba’s capitol: Ink wells v internet points.” master\., BBC News, 2013.

Current president Raul Castro announced on September 12, 2013 the vast Capitolio, one of the most iconic buildings in Havana, once seen as a symbol of bourgeois excess, will become the new home of Cuba’s Communist parliament. Even though it nonetheless came to speak for the authoritarian and corrupt government of the 20th century, no one ever touches it during revengeful protest that spread though the city of Havana. The magnificence of the neoclassical Capitolio reminds people of the beauty of Cuba. By changing the ink walls to Internet point, the six million dollar renovation will host the beginning of the new Cuba.

Encyclopedia Entries:

1. Cuba: Foreign Relation

Anonymous, Nd. Wikipedia. 2011. s.v. “Cuba: Forgeign Relations.” (accessed September 22, 2013).

Important Relations:

  • Founding member of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas: Today 30,000 Cuban doctors work in Venezuela thanks to the oil-for-doctor program established by the two countries.
  • 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act: Bill Clinton passed the act to strengthen and continue the United States embargo against Cuba. (Helms-Burton Act)
  • 2009 Full relation and cooperation activities resume: Barack Obama declared a new beginning with Cuba, and revered the Bush Administration’s travel restrictions between Cuba and the United States.
  • Cuba is currently the only third world country to have a world stage influence and positions them as a major global power.

Cuba foreign relations have isolated them from technological, political and economical development. The end of the US to Cuba embargo will have an important influence in the country’s development. In the next couple of years Cuba will need to take critical political decisions involving their relations with the United States and their Communist friends.

 2. Fidel Castro: Cuban Communist

Abraham, William, ed. Britanica. 2000. s.v. “Fidel Castro:Cuban Communist.”

Fidel Castro is admired as an anti-imperialist, humanitarian, socialist and environmentalist by some while others criticize him as a abusive dictator. Even though being such a controversial figure, Fidel Castro has build important influence in world politics. His radical ideologies have positioned him in difficulties that have caused Cuba to develop important characteristics no other developing county has been able to do, such as its high literacy rate and high life expectancy.

Scholarly Articles:

1. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said meeting with Fidel was Historic.

Gen, Ramat. “Venezuelan President Maduro says meeting with Fidel Castro was Historic.” Info-Prod Research (Middle East) Ltd.. (2013): n. page. Print. <>.

During the meeting Fidel and Maduro exchanged views on both current and past world issues. Together both communist presidents recalled Hugo Chaves work towards a “Latin American Unity”, Simon Bolivar’s dream. Through the gifts Maduro handed over to Fidel, the pride and admiration he has for the Cuban regime was more then evident. As Nicolas Maduro’s former mentor of Hugo Chaves, it seems through his encounter with Fidel Castro, that he will tend to pursue Chaves never finished goals with the aid of Castro.

They also discussed current issues such as food security, peace and climate change.

 2. Cuba: The measure of revolution

Lowry, Nelson. “Cuba: The measure of revolution.” University of Minnesota Press . (1972): n. page. Print. <>.

This book written by Nelson Lowry presents a careful insight to the economic, social, and political consequences the Cuban revolution brought upon its people. The revolution is Cuba was week and even upsetting to many of the same citizens that once supported it. Though this book we will understand how Fidel Castro’s ideals were never truly seen, but only heard through his convincing words. We will be able to understand the difference between imagining the perfect city and build it.

Orthographic Documentation:

1. London 1676 Map
Calder, Mike. 1676 Map. 1690. Photograph. Eco Media, London. Web. 22 Sep 2013. <>

London developed around its food system. This 1676 map shows London’s central street running along the canal. The Street names indicate they were related to the food system. This map shows how old civilizations developed around their food system, as Cuba has recently re incorporated done

2. Cuban District Division 


Perez, Julio. Districts Map. 2007. Photograph. Havana Journal,Cuba. Web. 22 Sep 2013.

The capital city of Cuba Havana expanded as the years went by.


Video and Audio:

1. Old, Fragile but Beautiful

Yanideel. Old, Fragil but Beautiful. 2012. Photograph. Steet Photography, Havana. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <>.

The bright blue car that once echoed the wealth of the city of Havana, is today its most noticeable symbol of decay. However, the 50’s American cars that circulate the city of Havana as iconic objects will be soon replaced new automobiles. The end of the US to Cuban embargo will undoubtedly disrupt Cuban’s “old, fragile but beautiful” life.

 2. Unfinished Spaces

Nahmias, Alysa, dir. Unfinished Spaces. Dir. Benjamin Murry. Vimeo, 2011. Film. 9 Sep 2013. <>.

Fidel Castro intends to promote arts in Cuba, by creating an amazing architectural building for arts, as many countries in the Soviet Union had. However this plan failed when Castro realized their economy was not strong enough to maintain citizens’ interested in the for coming project. This documentary shows how even though art is an important instrument of life, is sadly isn’t a primary daily necessity. For this reason, what seemed a flourishing idea, at the end was another bump in the growth of Cuba.

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