Project

Death Traps of Havana

Thousands of Cubans live in crumbling buildings that are in danger of crashing to the ground. This project examines the systemic causes of the crisis, one of the most pressing challenges for Cuba’s new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Cuba’s infrastructure nightmare has been widely reported. The country lacks the billions of dollars needed to repair decaying buildings, roads, electrical grids, and water treatment plants. What hasn’t been fully explored is the human toll of the crisis, particularly the impact on families of people killed or injured in building collapses.

Also underreported has been the struggle of 116,000 people now living in temporary shelters because their homes have caved in or been condemned. "Temporary” has become permanent for many residents, whose average stay has stretched to 20 years.

Havana has had a housing shortage for decades. Many residents stay in homes that are falling apart because they have nowhere else to go. In 2008, Cuba's Juventud Rebelde newspaper estimated that 28,000 people in Havana alone were living in buildings that were in danger of collapsing.

The problem has taken on a new urgency as increasing numbers of storms and hurricanes strike Cuba. In May 2018, for instance, heavy rains caused at least 100 partial building collapses in Havana. With more extreme weather events on the way, there's considerable concern about the future of these crumbling homes.

How Havana Is Collapsing, Building by Building

Time, weather and neglect has ravaged Havana. Scores of buildings are crumbling and could collapse at any moment. Residents are terrified. “You live with fear,” said Yuslemy Díaz, 32, a manicurist.

Meet the Journalist: Katherine Lewin

Old buildings in Havana sometimes collapse without warning, killing or injuring their occupants. Journalist Katherine Lewin discusses the crisis. She traveled to Cuba with journalist Tracey Eaton.