ATC110301: Report International Study Tour to the Republic of Cuba, dated 1 March 2011

NCOP Public Services



The Select Committee on Public Services, having undertaken an international study tour to the Republic of Cuba from 30 January to 5 February 2011, reports as follows:




The Select Committee on Public Services embarked on an international study tour to the Republic of Cuba on 30 January to 5 February 2011. The multi-party delegation consisted of the following Members of Parliament:


Hon MP Sibande (Leader of the delegation) (ANC);

Hon MP Themba (ANC);

Hon MP Jacobs (ANC);

Hon L Mabija (ANC);

Hon RJ Tau (ANC);

Hon Z Mlenzana (Cope);

Hon DB Feldman (Cope); and

Hon O de Beer (Cope).


The delegation was supported by the following parliamentary officials:


Mr T Makhanye (Committee Researcher),

Mr M Mzwakali (Committee Secretary), and

Mrs N Mahlanyana (Committee Assistant).


During the study tour, the Committee interacted with the Cuban Deputy Minister of Transport, the Vice President of the National Institute of Housing, the President of District Legislature Las Guasimas Settlement, and Members of the Cuban National Assembly. The study tour included visits to urban and inter-provincial transport bases, urban and semi-urban settlements in and around Havana City, and Las Guasimas District Settlement.


Purpose of the study tour 


The primary objectives of the study tour were, among others, to:


gain insight on how the Republic of Cuba deals with the challenge of social and cooperative housing as well as job creation through community-led infrastructure development;

assess policies implemented around socio-cooperative housing and how these models relate to the housing delivery in South Africa; 

better understand the reforms instituted by the Cuban Housing Institute, specifically in respect of the provision of social housing and the implications for local government;

gain a deeper understanding of the social housing developments in designated zones, including financial mechanisms to aid the poor and to bring social housing in South Africa to scale;

gain insight into the role played by different spheres of government in delivering transport infrastructure and socio-cooperative housing;

gain a deeper understanding of the present multi-modal transportation system and the measures put forth by the government of the Republic of Cuba to repair and improve the transport infrastructure; and

draw comparisons with relevant parliamentary committees that conduct oversight on issues related to human settlements and transport services.




South Africa’s relationship with the Republic of Cuba


South Africa and Cuba have maintained long-standing relations, dating back to the struggle against apartheid and colonialism in the sub-region, in whose eventual defeat Cuba played a pivotal role. Following South Africa’s democratic transition, Cuba and South Africa established diplomatic relations on 15 May 1994 and opened resident embassies in Pretoria (1994) and Havana (1995).


Cuba is one of South Africa’s most important political partners in Latin America and the Caribbean with whom South Africa has the strongest bilateral exchanges in a variety of fields of socio-economic activity.


One of the most significant agreements signed between South Africa and Cuba has been an agreement establishing the Joint Bilateral Commission (JBC). The JBC was established as a coordinating forum for the periodic review of bilateral cooperation projects, and the extension of cooperation to new areas. Cooperation in the sphere of health resulted in Cuban doctors and professors of medicine being deployed in South Africa and South African medical students studying in Cuba. 


Various other projects in areas as diverse as arts and culture, sports, social development, trade, agriculture, education, housing, and water affairs followed and twinning agreements have been signed between four provinces.  


In addition, a declaration of intent on cooperation between the respective Foreign Ministries was signed to strengthen the excellent political relations that exist between South Africa and Cuba and to further increase cooperation, particularly in the multilateral sphere.


The South Africa-Cuba JBC was established in February 2001 as a co-ordinating forum for the periodic review of bilateral co-operation projects in identified areas of economic, scientific, technical and commercial co-operation and the extension of co-operation to new areas.


Similarly, the Joint Consultative Mechanism (JCM) was created in 2000 to enable the Ministries of Foreign Affairs to hold regular bilateral and multilateral consultations. South Africa’s unequivocal support for Cuba in the international multilateral arena has benefitted Cuba, especially with regard to the existing United Nations (UN) resolutions, namely the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo, and the situation of human rights inCuba.







Cuba’s political and economic systems


The Republic of Cuba, politically and administratively, consists of 14 provinces, with 169 municipalities and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud. As part of its governmental structure, Cuba has municipal assemblies. These represent the highest level of state power with authority to exercise state functions at local level. The municipal assemblies elect administrative councils to guide local level economic entities, production and services to satisfy the economic, health and welfare, educational, cultural, sports and recreational needs of the region’s population.


The municipal assemblies also rely on people's councils situated at the level of cities, towns, neighbourhoods, settlements and rural zones. People's councils serve to inform the municipal assembly of the operations that local entities undertake within their respective territories, including those related to social housing provision.


The political system of Cuba is a socialist, independent sovereign state, organised with all and for the sake of all as a unitary and democratic republic for the enjoyment of political  freedom, social justice, collective and individual well-being and human solidarity.  The Communist Party of Cuba is the leading force of society and state.  The state recognises, respects and guarantees freedom of religion with religious institutions being separate from the state. The socialist state carries out the will of the working people and guarantees work, medical care, education, food, clothing and housing.


The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European Socialist bloc caused an economic crisis in Cuba.  The state declared the Special Period, which was defined as a condition of war in a time of peace. Survival was the top priority while continuing to drive towards the excellent social achievements in sectors such as education, health and social security.  During this time Cuba lost 85% of its major trading partners, 50% of its oil -  its sole source of energy, its access to privileged prices and soft credits from the eastern bloc, and the supply of vital spare parts needed to maintain the vast array of Russian technology that it accumulated for over 30 years after the revolution in 1959.


The effect was felt immediately. Entirely dependent on fossil fuels to operate, the major underpinnings of Cuban society were paralysed, which severely affected its transportation, industrial and agricultural systems. There were extensive losses in Cuban industrial capacity and agricultural productivity - the latter was dominated by modern industrial tractorscombines and harvesters, all of which required petroleum to operate.


During the Special Period a new level of government operating much closer to the local people than the municipalities was instituted, namely the Consejos Populares de Barrio. Community work was vigorously encouraged, including collaborative projects with foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The Special Period propagated important issues, such as community development and social work, the role of the family in society, political and administrative decentralisation, economic and environmental awareness and other critical aspects for a sustainable approach, including many ecologically sound alternatives for society such as bicycling and organic agriculture and a broader conception about built heritage.


As matters currently stand, the Cuban economic system is that of a dual economy that operates in an integrated manner. The national, ‘peso-economy’ applies to most Cubans, providing them with free education, free health care, universal employment, unemployment compensation, disability and retirement benefits as well as the basic necessities of life, such as  housing, utilities, basic foodstuff and some entertainment at very low cost. The hard currency, market economy operates in the tourist, international and export sectors and substantially sustains (and subsidises) the socialist economy.


Most means of production are owned and run by the state. About 85 per cent of the labour force is employed by the state. Some private employment is provided by more than 200 000 private farmers and more than 100 000 private owners of small businesses.


Carefully controlled foreign investment, mostly in the form of joint ventures, is permitted. However, foreign companies are required to contract workers only through the state employment agencies, which receive hard currency payments for the workers’ labour but in turn pay the workers a fraction in national pesos.


Cuba’s gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by about 35 per cent in the early 1990s after the fall and disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). This ushered in a period of severe hardship and economic difficulty and compelled the Cuban government to introduce certain economic reforms over the past decade to address its changed economic reality.


Under the Foreign Investment Law passed in 1995, which allows 51 per cent Cuban and 49 percent foreign ownership, Cuba is actively seeking foreign participation in commercial activities. Tourism infrastructure, the telecommunications sector and construction in general benefited. Since 2004, the Cuban government actively encouraged investment from China and Venezuela, especially in the nickel and energy sectors.


The Cuban constitution does not permit the sale of land. Land for commercial and industrial enterprises is usually acquired through the Cuban joint venture partners, leased on either a short-term basis or the right to use the land purchased for the particular business.


In recent years, as part of an effort to lure property developers into Cuba, the Cuban government announced that it will allow foreign investors to lease state land for 99 years instead of the previous limit of 50 years.


The extension is expected to make Cuba a more attractive place for foreign developers - some of whom already have detailed plans for at least seven golf resorts.


Sustainable Human Settlements


The challenge of providing housing to the Cuban people in Cuba has been exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European bloc countries as well as the unfavourable trade terms created by the US blockade.


The participation of different municipalities and neighbourhood associations has been critical to the success of the Cuban housing programme.


The Cuban housing programme is implemented on the basis of a participatory approach. Designed to assist and empower all Cubans, the state’s institutional framework has been opened up to community organisations and families. This broad people-driven participation is at the core of the programme's success in improving living conditions of entire neighbourhoods, families and individuals.  This community mobilisation has resulted in different solutions and responses through the co-operation between public, governmental and non-governmental organisations to give effect to the diverse housing needs of communities living in differing geographical settings in Cuba.


Cuba’s broad-based participatory process to human settlement brought about desired changes and improvement to the country's housing and put it on the road towards more sustainable housing construction.


The classification of houses in Cuba is organised by the National Institute of Housing (NIH). The NIH establishes policy and set plans for housing development in the country.  It is hierarchically represented in the 14 provinces and 169 municipalities. The NIH has provincial and municipal investment units that act in an investor role for housing construction on behalf of the government and further regulates private construction or repairs to houses across the country.


The NIH recently approved a new resolution authorising licences to Cubans who wish to undertake construction projects on their properties. The shortage of houses is a pressing challenge in modern-day Cuba. The resolution deals with this challenge by giving Cubans the freedom to build new houses as well as to restore, renovate and enlarge their houses.


The new regulation further outlines the need to develop future mechanisms for the open sale of construction materials at real cost.  Complementing the new policy is Resolution 392 of December 2009 issued by the Cuban Ministry of Finances and Prices. In a clear example of the integration of the hard currency and peso economy operating in Cuba, the resolution seeks to progressively lower the prices of construction materials for sale in hard currency markets and authorise the free sale of other construction goods in local currency (Cuban pesos).  By enabling greater purchasing power, these new measures encourage people to expand urban infrastructure with their own efforts.   The new legislation also allows for developing land-lease property into homes owned by ordinary Cubans who would otherwise not be able to own their own houses.


Much of the production following the revolution was focused on eliminating the disparity in conditions between the city and countryside. In order to ensure standardised quality of production techniques employed in large-scale development, construction programmes are centralised in the Ministry of Construction.


Centralisation of social housing through the Ministry of Construction was extended nationwide after 1965. Due the standardisation of all projects, local needs and differences was given little attention as the focus was more on ensuring uniform technological standards and quality across the country. The approach to the growing housing shortage was to mass produce pre-fabricated buildings, including high-rises up to 25 floors in large tracts for more than 100 families. The serious problem was that these were often completed without essential basic services and infrastructure being supplied to the people.


Public Transportation


There are currently two nationalised bus companies that are operated by the Cuban government. Viazul operates a fleet of newer coaches on long-distance routes primarily for tourists. An inter-municipal service is provided by ASTRO (Associacion de Transporte por Omnibus) Bus, operating with older vehicles. ASTRO buses mainly serve tourists and visitors seeking lower cost travel in Cuba.


The Cuban Aviation Enterprise (Empresa Cubana de Aviación) or Cubana, is the state-run airline. International airports operate at Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey and Varadero, and domestic airports serve Guantánamo,Holguín, Las Tunas, La Colonia (in Pinar del Río), Nueva Gerona and several other locations.


While the rail infrastructure dates from colonial and early republican times, passenger service along the principal Havana to Santiago corridor is increasingly reliable and popular with tourists who can purchase tickets in convertible Cuban pesos.


Despite these challenges, Cuba made significant progress in addressing its developmental agenda related to transportation. The highway system - which in 1903 was concentrated mainly in Havana Province - for example, evolved from 250 kilometres of paved roads to 20,000 kilometres throughout the island.


Detail of the Tour to Cuba

Monday, 31 January 2011: Arrival

The Committee arrived at José Martí Airport in Havana on 31 January 2011 and was received by His Excellency, Ambassador Piitso; Counsellor Nyawose; and Hon MP Mr C Valdes, Secretary of the Committee on Serves (Cuban National Assembly).

Tuesday, 1 February 2011: Meeting with the Cuban Deputy Minister of Transport


4.2.1. The Committee cherishes the meeting with Hon Edel Corrales, Deputy Minister of Transport. The Minister reported to the Select Committee as follows:


The Ministry of Transport of the Republic of Cuba (MITRANS) is responsible for guiding terrestrial (automotive and railroad) transportation including road, maritime and civil maritime navigation as well as fluvial (riverside) infrastructure, including auxiliary and related services. This comprehensive portfolio comprised an enterprise system of over 250 public, private and joint ventures administered on behalf of the Cuban state.


The air transport industry is governed by the Cuban Institute of Civil Aeronautics (IACC).


The MITRANS managerial system is in the process of creating a market niche where various government transport operations would be carried out including those directly linked operations such as the supply of crews, manufacturing of containers, including submarine archaeology and, amongst others, the management of integral logistics systems.


As reported earlier, two national bus companies are operating in Cuba namely, Viazul that operates a fleet of modern and comfortable coaches on longer distance routes designed principally for tourists, and Astro Bus, an inter-municipal transport service at a lower cost.


All the above state-owned enterprises are accountable and subject to the policies of the Ministry of Transport. 


The Cuban railways system covers over 12,000 km of railways and an average density of 0.15 square kilometres.  It consists of two sub systems: public trains, running on 5,000 km of railways, and goods trains used for the transportation of sugar, which falls under the portfolio of the Ministry of Sugar. The latter covers 7,000 km of railways devoted to the transportation of sugar and minerals.


The Cuban public railways transport general cargo in bulk, in containers, including refrigerated goods, cement and liquid cargo. For passenger transportation there is an integrated network of services composed of national, inter-territorial and local trains.


Even though the public railways system is dating back to the colonial era it still has well maintained equipment which continues to draw the admiration of public transport experts worldwide. This is the case with the Casablanca-Matanzas (a Hershey train), driven by an electric locomotive that dates back to the 1920s.


Importantly, due to it being an island and its favourable geographical position, Cuba is well-placed to develop maritime trading around the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf.  Through well-established maritime lines and services operated by several ship owners Cuba is directly connected with the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guatemala, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Brazil, Russia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, South Korea and Vietnam.


As stated above, due to its geographic form and position, Cuba’s seaport system is highly suitable for foreign trade operations. The system consists of four main areas: ports, shipping lines, shipyards, and port and maritime services.


A group of entities from MITRANS’s entrepreneurial system operates the specialised activities required by maritime and port services.


With regard to land transport and road infrastructure, 17 260,7 km of roads are paved. The road network is complemented by a high number of gravel roads that could be easily paved. Two main highways, the Central Highway and the National Expressway bi-sects the country; the Central Highway runs west to east, linking the main cities and connecting numerous north-to-southbound roads in an effective network. The National Expressway (1020 km long), links Western and Eastern Cuba and runs from Pinar del Río to Central Cuba, with a stretch of road already completed in Eastern Cuba.


In general, road traffic is flowing without restrictions, and the foreseen medium-term growth would not result in traffic jams.


All-weather roads ensure that all human settlements, including rural regions, are directly interconnected with each other. Further proposals have been made to complete interconnecting roads to progressively improve road access to Cubans.


Entities of MITRANS developed several activities in support of the transport system such as the production of building materials, design of applied software, engineering geological research, and underwater technical works.


The Cuban state is the principal shareholder of all assets related to air transport.


The state has as its main mission to provide the required civil aviation infrastructure to cope with the sustained tourism growth in Cuba, providing a safe, high-quality service according to international standards, placing the country amongst the best within its region.


As majority stockholder in subsidiary entities of civil aviation, the Cuban state is carrying out continuous studies to improve the sector for the benefit of the economy and society. It further exercises supervision and control over its subsidiaries and branches specifically with regard to the leasing of its facilities to third parties.


The Cuban Airports and Airport Services Company (ECASA) is the owner of the country’s main airports and is in charge of securing the development of transportation to and from the island. Its main object is operating the airports and airport services (aircraft, passengers, cargo, aeronautical services, airport management and their control and operation).


Site visit to the Urban Transport Base (Berroa Base)

The Director-General of the Board of Havana Provincial Division provided a brief overview of how the Cuban Department of Transport works and reported that:


The provincial division is an extension of the Ministry of Transport and is supported by various state-owned enterprises.


After the Cuban Socialist Revolution, private businesses were nationalised, and public transport was assigned to the MITRANS. In the Province of the City of Havana, provincial transport authority functions are carried out by 11 divisions.


The Havana public bus transport is managed by two divisions, Omnibus Metropolitanos (OM) and MetroBus. The Omnibus Metropolitanos division has one of the most used and largest urban bus fleets in the country. Its fleet is diverse with old donated and new bus models operating on the bus transport network. The fleet consists primarily of well-used Busscar Urbanuss (manufactured in Russia and the Republic of China) and includes the infamouscamellos (camels), which are truck trailers ill-fitted for passenger transportation.


There are several inter-provincial bus services such as Astro, the regular national public transportation which connects the capital city with the other provinces.


Apart from the urban transport buses, there are also taxi companies which are regulated and co-ordinated by the Provincial Division of Transport.


In another example of the free market operating in an integrated fashion in Cuba, there are a group of privately-owned individual taxis that provide services to the greater population. 

Site visit to the Cuban Provincial Transport Base (Astro Base: Plaza de la Revolucion)


The Director-General of ASTRO introduced members of its Board and outlined the provincial transport base business model.  Sketching its background, he indicated that the structure of the business group was premised on the triumphs and values of the Cuban revolution in the 60’s; accordingly, the business model is based a socialist values. Between 1970 and 1980, the revolutionary government decided to create a business transport group in the form of ASTRO to co-ordinate and facilitate government’s business programmes in respect of transport.  


The core business values of ASTRO are clearly defined in the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba and provides the legal basis for the establishment of the group companies.


In terms of the Constitution, the Minister of Transport would pass a resolution for the creation of a company and the appointment of business advisory directors, including a legal arrangement for the execution of the company documents.


The Cuban National Assembly exercises an oversight function over the business group in order to ensure that the appropriate quality of services is provided to all Cubans.


ASTRO consists of 22 self-financed state-owned enterprises operating 132 destination routes into various parts of the country. 


Site visit to the Urban Base


The delegation was taken on a tour of the urban station.  The operations and technological form of the station were outlined.


7.2.       It was reported that the station started rendering services in 2008 and the P9 line was incorporated in 2009.  P13 was later included covering 582 trips.  The operating times were between 6 am and 6 pm and the station carries more than 1 million urban passengers daily.


Wednesday, 2 February 2011: Site visit to the Cuban National Institute of Housing


The delegation was welcomed by the Hon Vice-President of the Institute and Members of the Board.


The Vice-President gave a presentation on the Cuban Social Housing Model, focusing on various Cuban building programmes during and after the Cuban revolution.


By way of background, he pointed out that the housing situation in Cuba was not very different from that of other countries at a similar level of development.


Soon after coming to power, President Fidel Castro sought to release the grip that landlords held on Cuban properties. He passed the Urban Land Reform Act, which converted half of Cuba’s urban tenants into legal homeowners with long-term, rent-free leases. All units built or distributed by government after 1961 were assigned leases at no more than 10 per cent of household income. After five to twenty years of payment this converted to ownership of the unit. Former owners were compensated for their losses, but landlords of slum tenement buildings received nothing from government. In addition to this property redistribution, other facets of the legislation prohibited private renting and sub-letting. Moreover, it was illegal for households to own more than one primary residence and one vacation home.


The 1984 Housing Law articulated the government’s housing goals and in line with the 1960 Urban Land Reform Law, the law converted more leaseholders living in government-owned housing into homeowners. This piece of legislation sought to accomplish two main goals. Firstly, it sought to establish a dominant and uniform tenure status by converting leaseholds into homeowners and legalising most ambiguous and possibly illegal situations. Secondly, it attempted to clarify responsibility for ordinary maintenance and major repairs. Residents of single-family dwellings were responsible for maintenance and repair of their own units while many high-rise condominiums were municipally managed in consultation with resident councils.


The legislation further introduced greater flexibility into Cuba’s housing policies. The law permitted short-term private rentals, fostered self-built housing construction and updated existing legislation regulating housing management, maintenance and repair, evictions and the buying and selling of land and housing.


Furthermore, the 1984 Housing Law fostered greater demand for government housing. A decline in hard currency due to hardships experienced by the Russian economy prevented sufficient housing construction and repair. During this period, the Cuban government struggled to balance various housing distribution objectives such as economic development, equity, improving conditions for those in the worst situations and combating corruption through collective public forums and allocation.


The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc economic trading partners sent a tremendous shockwave through Cuba’s economy, with the GDP falling by 35 per cent. In order to prevent political upheaval and the total collapse of the socialist economy, the Cuban government turned to tourism and opened its markets to replace revenue that it depended on from the Soviet Union. Foreign firms were allowed to enter into joint ventures with the Cuban government and foreign individuals who were not residents were allowed to purchase houses. In addition, Cuban residents were allowed to rent out up to two rooms in their home to other Cubans or tourists.


With the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the 1990’s were a tense period and as a result government had to change its housing policies and building techniques.  During this period it was important for the Cuban government to centralise the building of houses through a state-owned special vehicle subsidiary to the Department of Housing.


A new housing policy was endorsed in terms of which the citizens would be actively involved in the construction plans and programmes. The Cuban state provided decisive support in terms of the supply of land, technical assistance, project management, the execution of infrastructure as well as the provision of highly subsidised raw material. It carried more than 60% of the actual costs, with credit facilities that were made affordable to all families. People’s participation in such projects would vary according to the social and geographic characteristics of the settlements. 


Amongst the most utilised modalities were inter alia ‘building by your own means’ which is a popular movement that brings together a group of neighbours in one area who would work on the building of new houses but also on repairing houses that are in poor condition. This would be done with the support of various enterprises and state workplaces, which would provide skilled labour and the means of transporting relevant material.


Accordingly, the state and Cuban population have made some gains during the past decades and with the increase of urbanisation it was important for the State to invest on water suppliers; urban services and bulk infrastructure.


It was further reported that the state planned to build multi-family houses by constructing 20-storey buildings in order to further improve government’s housing delivery output by exploiting urbanisation that was already there without expanding the urban perimeter of the city. 


However, the main constraint to the advancement of the Cuban housing building programmes has been the lack of material and financial resources. This is aggravated by the US commercial and financial blockade, which has hindered access to markets and credit to purchase material, products and technologies.


The delegation was further shown various housing models involving innovative technologies where light technologies were used in order to build houses, which are resistant to rain storms and hurricane weather. These include: 

The use of solid and resistant material to substitute massive metal roofs;

The use of armed cement as opposed to massive panels;

Utilising structures with thermal and acoustic conditions;

The use of economic technology for high buildings referred to as ‘System Forsa (Mournders Transferables) and Sandino.  These are simple technologies with low-weight panels and columns which people could carry and lift without having to use expensive equipment such as hoists and cranes;

The use of Systemas “PVC” Petrcacas - PVC is used and filled up with cement to produce up to three-storey houses.  The walls are  plastic and the cost of maintenance is very low; and

The use of Nucleo Gigiso - where solid roofs made of armed cement and a combination of metal covers are used to protect the houses from hurricane weather.


The advantages of the above technological designs were also outlined.  The Vice-President pointed out that:

They are viable and favourable to the participation of the general population;

They are effective in the rescuing of traditional technologies in areas where there are national heritage sites, thus creating a sense of belonging and ownership within the greater population;

They are facilitating socialisation of the population and were also educational to the new generation;

They are creating new resilient solutions to ongoing projects;

They create a platform for general advice in the event of natural disasters;

They offer co-ordinated solutions for economic and social housing;

They are creating space for alternative material, thereby enhancing local technologies;

They are playing a pivotal role in improving the interface between modern and traditional technologies;

They enhance and facilitate the development of the state from a citizen’s perspective and increase dignity and pride;

They enhance the progressive development of the family and society at large; and

They decrease the vulnerability of houses.


Site visit to Urban Settlement in Havana City


Members were given a brief tour of some of the low-cost rental houses.


The project was part of the government’s programme to improve the general, but especially, hygienic and sanitary living conditions in the inner city of Havana. The aim was to find innovative solutions within small and compact urban areas. The houses were inherited from the pre-revolutionary government and had to be extended to appropriate sizes of 25 square metres incorporating bathrooms, two bedrooms and a kitchen.  The houses are state-owned and its inhabitants sign leases and pay for electricity and water services.


By providing tenants with stable housing along with accessible health services and other support services, the state helps people find strength, dignity and a sense of community.


Site visit to Semi-Rural Settlement (Ispalente)


Members were given a brief tour of the apartments.


The programme was started to assist communities to create permanent houses with services to prevent and end homelessness. They use technologies with low weight that enables people to carry panels and columns without using expensive mechanic equipment such as hoists and cranes.  The three-storey block of houses could be built within a period of 18 months with 36 hours of work per week.


The Cuban law of general housing provides for the transfer of newly built dwellings to the occupants at a subsidised price.


Thursday, 3 February 2011: Tour of Downtown Cienfuegos and the Main Square Jose Marti

Members were given a guided tour of Jose Marti Meseum; Gallery “Model of Havana City”; and Africa House.

12.        Friday, 4 February 2011: “Las Guasimas” Settlement (District) - Manama


12.1.     The delegation was received by the Hon Mr Gerardo Hernadez (MP), President of Manama district legislature.


12.2.     Hon Hernadez gave a brief profile of the district municipality.


12.3.     Members were given a brief tour of the apartments. Similar to the Ispalente programme above, the Manama housing programme was started to help communities create permanent houses with basic services to promote an end to homelessness using technologies with low weight in terms of which families could carry panels and columns without using hoists and cranes.  The three-storey block of houses could be built within a period of 18 months and could cater for the disabled.


12.4.     The Cuban law of general housing provided for the transfer of newly built dwellings to the occupants at a subsidised price based on a point system of allocation.


13.        Meeting with Members of the Cuban National Assembly (Committee on Services)


13.1.     The Hon Ms Cecilia Valdes (MP), Secretary of the Committee on Services, opened the meeting by introducing members of the Committee. She expressed her satisfaction at meeting the members of the South African delegation in Cuba and welcomed them warmly.   She noted the importance of the meeting for Cuba and commented briefly on the country’s international, social, and economic relations, expressing confidence in the future of these relations and wishing the South African Select Committee on Public Services success in its initiatives.  She briefly outlined the characteristics of the Cuban economic, political and electoral systems.


13.2.     The leader of the delegation delivered a vote of support to the Cuban people and stressed the Cubans' just aspirations for integration and condemned the brutal economic embargo imposed on the country.


14.        Conclusion and recommendations


14.1.     The Cuban social housing policies pursued between 1960 and 1990 appear to have succeeded in providing basic, adequate housing for the majority of the population.  While the overall housing deficit is acknowledged, homelessness is not considered to be a significant problem.  Due to the success of the Cuban state’s innovative policies, regulatory laws and projects, the country managed to avoid the extremes of destitution known in many of the world’s developing countries. The centralisation of state resources allowed Cuba to succeed notwithstanding the serious challenges brought about by the US blockade.


14.2.     Since the triumph of the revolution, Cuba has adopted a series of economic, social and environmental measures to reduce social vulnerability in spite of the natural, technological and health hazards it faces.


14.3.     While ongoing population change and the current economic circumstances continue to undermine the progress made prior to the Special Period, the Cuban government continues to balance the need for secure, adequate, affordable housing for all of the population.  Through the method of ‘inclusive participation’ the citizens themselves have managed to drive the social housing programme with the technical support from government.


14.4.     It is therefore, important to involve the populace in the state’s quest to solve the housing deficit.  The focus for the state should be more towards social solutions as opposed to dealing with housing as an estate problem. 


14.5.     In order to better meet the forever pressing need for housing, it is critical for South Africa to continue implementing more comprehensive and sustainable housing programmes, taking into account the people’s housing needs and the economic context in which it governs as well as the existing deficit of land and houses. 


14.6.     South Africa should consider Cuban models in both the housing and transport sectors.  South Africa should follow up on the inclusive citizen participatory approach offered by the Cuban model and this approach should be central to the planning of social housing and the provision of transport in all spheres of government.






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