Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fidel Castro: Hospital better than a hotel. "You can see the sea at your feet"

Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital

In case you've ever wondered about that 24-story building near the Malecon in Centro Habana, it's been a hospital for nearly three decades. But it was supposed to be Cuba's national bank.

The building was under construction when Fidel Castro and his followers forced Fulgencio Batista from power on Jan. 1, 1959.

The Catholic Church used to run a home for abandoned children on the site. Workers tore down that building and began work on the bank. Fidel Castro’s government took over and decided to turn the building into a hospital.

The project took many years to finish. Castro spoke at the hospital's December 1982 inauguration. His speech was vintage Castro. It underscored his extreme attention to detail. It showed how he tried to win over his audience with a barrage of facts and figures. And it made clear that whenever he had the microphone - which was often - he took full advantage of it.

The 35-page English translation of the speech is here. Highlights are below, nearly 9,000 words boiled down to about 700. It's still too long for a blog post, but some of the details are interesting, giving insight into the workings of a revolutionary government:

Castro said the building was 14 or 16 stories high when his government decided to turn it to a hospital.
... We decided to talk to the architects and engineers and ask them about the possibility of converting this project into a hospital...

Many changes had to be made. The work was slow. The building required all kinds of materials. For example, the rocks.
Jaimanita rocks which cover the outside of the building had already been used in some parts of the building and were part of the original project. These rocks must be handled one by one.
A local limestone used in many of Havana's older buildings is called Jaimanita.
This construction, due to the complexity of the project and the materials needed, required time. It also required financial resources. It required foreign currency.

It was then necessary to purchase the necessary medical equipment and finally install it. This is the history of the construction of this hospital...
But, Castro said, the hospital would not be in full operation for a year.
It is impossible to get this giant going in just one week. If we want to do it correctly, we have to do it little by little. So area residents should not be impatient. If it has taken us years to build, we can well wait one year to get it going at full capacity.

This is a special will offer services of the highest quality, at a level of the best in the world.
The hospital opened with 950 beds in 300 rooms.
They are magnificent rooms. ...I do not recall ever seeing a hotel better than this hospital, in all senses. The beauty, the finishing touches, the details, the view which is impressive, the Malecon Boulevard and the sea. From those windows you can see the sea at your feet.
Castro said more than 2,000 people would work at the hospital, although the final number hadn't been set.

He said the project cost about 60 million pesos and had more than double the electrical capacity than the Habana Libre Hotel.
The entire hospital is air conditioned. It will not have to depend on the cool breeze of Malecon Boulevard. It also has four 650-ton turbo generators for a total of 2,600 tons, including three 750-hp boilers.
The laundry department has a capacity for processing six tons of clothes a day. The kitchen has the capacity to produce 3,000 rations. It has 17 refrigeration chambers in addition to much sterilization equipment.

I am only giving a few figures.
Castro went on in great detail, but said the hospital had to be seen to be believed.
It must be seen personally, or perhaps on television to really have an idea of what it is. Whatever is said about it is a poor description of the image...The lobby is really something to see. Apparently the original project has something to do with this. It is a great hall. I believe it was designed for a stock market center.
Castro also spoke about infant mortality, Cuban doctors working abroad and other health-related issues. Then, toward the end of his speech, he explained the hospital's name – Hermanos Ameijeiras.

The hospital is named after a family of "revolutionary brothers" from the very Centro Habana neighborhood where it stands, he said.
The first, Juan Manuel Ameijeiras Delgado, was killed on 26 July 1953 during the attack on the Moncada Barracks when he was only 20 years old.
The second, Gustavo Ameijeiras Delgado, disappeared on leaving prison in January 1958. It is known that he was arrested while on his way to the Sierra Maestra. He was beaten and tortured, but they were not able to get a word out of him.

The third, Angel Ameijeiras Delgado, died on 8 November 1958...when they were surprised by the tyranny's henchmen and defended their lives at a high price.
Castro said a fourth brother had been “imprisoned on the Isle of Pines, also for fighting against oppression.” And a fifth brother, Efigenio Ameijeiras, “disembarked with ‘Granma’ expeditionaries on Colorada Beach on 2 December 1956.”
The Ameijeiras ancestry is a moving example of heroism…
I told Efigenio that this hospital would be named after his brothers.

Without any more words, I would say that this is the only way to truly remember and honor heroes. Fatherland or death, we will win.


jnettle1 said...

The lady I met in 2001 and married last year lives just a couple blocks from this hospital ( two sisters, four children and one grandchild live in a tiny apartment)
Thus the building has always played a role in my life in Cuba. it's known as a tourist hospital in her neighborhood. Everyone I know goes to a clinic a few blocks in the opposite direction for all their medical concerns. In general, good doctors, lousy everything else.
Just a few months more and my wife's apartment should have two less occupants.

Tracey Eaton said...

That's great to hear. Best wishes with your Cuban family. Tracey

Eight is enough said...

The building architects were Moenck and Quintana. Architect Nicolás Quintana tells of a conversation with the then head of Cuba's National Bank, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, regarding problems with the elevator system and Guevara's suggestion that they be eliminated, reasoning that if his office was on the top floor and he, being an asthmatic, could walk up the stairs, then everybody could walk up the stairs.

Tracey Eaton said...

Eight is enough -
Thanks for the additional information.