Cuba’s latest hotel project, in ruins

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Cayo Esquivel, a small cay in northern Cuba, has a beach dotted with coconut trees and the foundations of old buildings. Until the early 60s it boasted dozens of summer houses and a couple of hotels, complete with verandas. Later, there was a campground. After that, there were tents for humble vacationers. In the end, disembarking was prohibited, even for the fishermen who ply the keys.

Rediscovered during the tourism boom still buoying Cuba, at Esquivel Beach and its environs plans now call for a luxury hotel, a diving center, a marina and a couple of hotels for city tourism in Sagua la Grande, a National Monument since 2011.

Regla Armenteros, a ministerial delegate in Villa Clara, assured the local radio station CMHW that Sagua La Grande “will be launched as a new destination” at the upcoming 2018 Cuba International Tourism Fair, scheduled for May.

At last year’s edition of the fair, held in Holguín, Manuel Marrero Cruz, a minister of the sector, promoted the construction of six hotels in several cities of Villa Clara, and referred to the “enormous potential” of the Esquivel Cay.

In July of 2017, according to Juventud Rebelde, Marrero traveled to the province to check on the progress of the work. A week after the minister’s visit, one of the buildings visited, the El Comercio hotel, suffered a collapse, killing two workers and injuring eight.

In September, when Hurricane Irma hit, the Cosmopolita lost its third floor, but without injuring anyone in Camajuaní, the first locale of any importance on the route from Santa Clara to the Cayo Santa María.

Even the minister himself was concerned about the building’s future. During his July visit, wary of its weak walls, he asked the National Company of Applied Solutions to proceed with an immediate structural analysis of the building.

Irma hastened its demolition, and may have prevented an episode like the one that occurred in Caibarién. But, except for this service, the hurricane devastated the development forecasts for heritage-rich cities, which had to assign brigades and resources for the recovery of already established facilities.

“After the collapse at Caibarién and the damage from the cyclone, there hasn’t been much activity at the Hotel Sagua,” said a passerby near the building.

Sources involved in the hotel project report, however, that Minister Marrero Cruz has made informal statements confirming the intention to deliver the building by the scheduled date, so that it can serve as a showcase for the consecration of Sagua la Grande as Cuba’s most recent tourism mecca.

“The minister said that we must finish by May,” said a young man who is training to work at the hotel, “but if they meet the date, they will have to give it a major overhaul in June.”

The Hotel Sagua, built in 1925 by the Insurance and Surety Company of Sagua la Grande, is a massive ruin, viewed in the city as a symbol of urban decay. While the workers arrive, the restoration remains limited to some demolition work and the propping up of the ceilings.

A new tourism destination could be born, Villa del Undoso, despite the city’s dilapidation, if the statistics continue to confirm the increase in foreign visitors.

Cuba expects more than five million tourists this year. Villa Clara, the third most popular destination in the country, already has more than 10,000 rooms, but they are not enough. With such figures being cited, the Ministry of Tourism and the affiliates of Cuba’s military/business elite will be sure to take full advantage of the Esquivel Cay and its surroundings.

“Isla Virgen” (Virgin Island) is what the Asturian company Inverastur calls the islet of Sagua la Grande, probably parroting an advertising claim from Rumbos S.A., the Cuban tourist group that granted them 50% stakes in the development of Esquivel, according to statements for the Holsteltur website.

Víctor Fernández Álvarez de Carrizo, president of Inverastur, is already planning the Cayo Esquivel Club, which will offer “a very special, high-level, exclusive tourism product, for people and figures with elite, affluent profiles.”

Inverastur is charged with its construction, the first phase of which will cost more than four million dollars. This company is also bound to license out management of the hotel, which will surely be assigned to another Spanish group, with the consent of Rumbos S.A., its Cuban partner, an offshoot controlled by the military officials in charge of GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial, S.A.)