In Galiano, Havana’s former main commercial street, they are installing street lamps that are exact reproductions of the original ones, which have decayed or been destroyed by the passage of time and apathy. The fronts of its surviving buildings are also being repainted, though with garish colors accented in white, which clash with the surroundings. Nevertheless, at least it is something, as long as it does simply end up being a scenic backdrop for tourists’ snapshots.
If they are indeed trying to revive Galiano, it is necessary to do more than than what is currently being done. They could begin by removing the sliding metal doors which cover the glass storefronts and entrances, turning these establishments into virtual safes without any real valuables to protect.
Shops and retail businesses with display windows, which have been closed or fallen on hard times, should be reopened and stocked with merchandise. Small stores that sell meat and groceries but lack refrigeration or are in unhygienic locations should be closed. Stalls that have been set up doorways and windows of homes that had in the past been commercial buildings should be regulated.
The so-called “corporate colors,” which some businesses use to identify themselves without regard for a building’s architectural style or the building materials used (ETESCA’s blue and white, Sylvain’s red and white, and Rapiditos’ ketchup and mustard for example), should be prohibited.
Trasval, that lugubrious mausoleum and monument to bad taste, located in what had been the well-lit and pleasant Ten Cent at the corner of Galiano and San Rafael, should be made to disappear.*
Streets and sidewalks should be repaired and washed daily. Retail businesses and stores should be required to do the same with their entrances and interiors. Illuminated store signs and advertisements, which give so much life to a street during the day as well as at night, should be installed.
This host of tasks cannot be accomplished by the state, which has been the party responsible for the disappearance and destruction of the previously existing retail network and of so much cumulative decay over the years. In spite of its “Golden Rule” and “MS” seal (mejor servicio or better service), it foolishly expropriated everything in the 1970s only to let it all languish. This is why private and cooperative initiative and investment are essential. They are the only guarantees of identity, diversity, efficiency, quality and profitability, replacing the term “users” with “customers.”
Clearly, it is necessary to eliminate the obsolete and unnatural restrictions still in effect and to allow for private employment and commerce without limitations on space or personnel. Retail business administration is not a task for the state, especially since it has quite amply demonstrated its inability to do it. It would then be left to city government to provide what are among its real responsibilities — the necessary infrastructure (water, sewage, electricity, gas, communications, etc.)
Beyond that, there are other important commercial streets in terrible condition such as Neptune, San Miguel, the previously mentioned San Rafael, Reina, Monte and Belascoaín, to name but a few, that they could also begin resurrecting. Havana deserves this and much more given that compensation for all the damage that has been and continues to be inflicted is long overdue.
*Translator’s note: ETESCA is Cuba’s national telecommunications company. Sylvain is a chain of bakeries and sweet shops. Trasval is a department store located in what had been a Woolworth’s, known locally as Ten Cent. Rapiditos a chain of outdoor, fast-food restaurants. All are state-owned.
January 22 2013