During the first week of April, I visited Havana, Cuba, on an educational exchange trip with the Ohio State Bar Association. As we made our way through the city, including restaurants that served first class cuisine, I could not shake the feeling that I was mingling with a sophisticated civilization that was living amongst the ruins left behind by a former civilization.
Havana is a city of proud and resourceful people who welcomed us warmly. There did not appear to be a bone of apathy in the entire city. Yet, the state of erosion of the physical infrastructure cannot be understated.
In some places, we saw homes being restored to past glory using nothing more than wheelbarrows of cement and shovels and other hand tools. But it was far more common to see blocks of the city where paint is peeling, sections of marble and railing have gone missing, and concrete has eroded to such an extent that one can see the aggregate in the walls of buildings.
Havana and other cities in Cuba also lack the hotel rooms required to meet the demands of accelerating tourism. To fill the void, private homestays—many listed on Airbnb and Homestay.com—have proliferated to bridge the gap between Cuba’s current hotel capacity and the number of rooms needed to meet ever increasing demand. One case in point: Airbnb now has more than 4,000 listings in 40 different cities around Cuba—a threefold increase since it launched operations there in April 2015. Hosts earn an average of $250 per booking, significant income in a country where the average salary is less than $30 a month.
In addition to the need for infrastructure restoration in Havana and construction of additional tourism lodging throughout Cuba, the Cuban government has an extensive list of priority projects that it wishes to undertake in joint ventures with private foreign investors. From radial tire production to beef and pork production to air conditioning, refrigeration and boiler capability to hotel construction, Cuba is taking steps to increase its output and collective standard of living.
To meet its development goals and to restore Havana’s infrastructure will require an enormous investment in construction and construction materials.
Presently, United States law continues to place an embargo on doing business with Cuba in many areas. However, these restrictions are softening and it is reasonable that you can see from here the day when the embargo and all other restrictions on doing business in Cuba no longer exist.
When that day arrives, Cuba is likely to present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to the construction materials and construction industries.