08/28/13 - Helena Independent Record - Official with Old Havana's massive preservation effort to speak in Helena
A rare chance to hear first-hand about unique restoration efforts in Old
Havana, Cuba, is the focus of a 7:30 p.m. talk today by Magda Resik
Aguirre, director of communications for Havana's City Historian, at the
Carroll College Campus Center.
"The old city center is being preserved," said Resik, who was speaking with
the assistance of interpreter Lynn Hinch Tuesday morning. "That includes a
number of buildings that have high historic value. If not for this
restoration, they would have been lost."
The 2.2-square-kilometer heart of Cuba's capital city has buildings dating
back to the early 1500s. Old Havana was designated by the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a "patrimony of
humanity" or heritage site in 1982. Other renowned historic heritage sites
include Athens, Rome and Venice.
Eusebio Leal, the historian of the city of Havana, leads its acclaimed
restoration efforts. He first gained international recognition earlier in
his career for lying down in front of bulldozers to prevent the destruction
of historic wooden roadbeds.
Since 1993, thousands of buildings have been restored in Old Havana.
Among them a castle, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, the Palace once
used by representatives of the Spanish crown and the Hotel Ambos Mundos
beloved by author Ernest Hemingway, where he wrote "Farewell to Arms."
"It's a typical Spanish colonial city," said Resik, describing the city's
historic district. "The streets were narrow and made of cobblestone, and
the houses are close to each other. All of them have interior patios and
large columns. The city developed around five public plazas that are in an
All the Spanish ships loaded with treasures from Latin America docked in
Havana's port on their way back to Spain.
"It's a city with a long history," Resik said, "with many different
religious points of interest." A number of the churches and cathedrals have
now been restored to their former grandeur.
The city's historic fortifications, the largest in the Caribbean, as well
as the Old Havana historic district are what earned it the UNESCO heritage
site designation, said Resik.
During her talk, Resik will share images of the deteriorating historic
buildings next to images of them beautifully restored.
But it's not just magnificent buildings that make this restoration site
It's how they do it.
Some 70,000 people live in Old Havana, and city historian Leal is in charge
of that part of the city. According to UNESCO it's a unique situation that
is credited to Leal, Resik said.
"He took into account not only the historic preservation, but also economic
development," she said.
Rather than displace the original residents, his office works with
residents on housing and to improve their lives. Residents are involved in
public meetings in determining who will move back into the building once
it's restored, she said.
"We have a school for training more than 500 students because we're also
restoring these old ... trades related to the recovery of old buildings,"
Resik said. Carpenters learn to work with old wood, while others are
trained to work with plaster and stained glass.
"People who live in the old part of town have priority for employment," she
added. The preservation office currently employs 10,000 people, according
to a press release. As a result, family incomes in Old Havana are growing
with the restoration.
"My boss feels that if historic preservation doesn't take care of the
original inhabitants, it loses its meaning for being," she said. As a
result, medical centers, day cares, apprentice trade schools and senior
citizen centers are part of the social and physical restoration of the
The restoration is funded by both tourism funds and taxes, she said, as
well as 20 percent from international sources.
Resik, who Leal recruited 15 years ago to start a historic preservation
communications office, established a radio station, Havana Radio. Her
office also produces TV programs, magazines, digital publications, audio
visual materials and a monthly cultural program.
"We have programs produced by children and adults in the community," she
If you don't include the community in the preservation process, she said,
it goes one way and the community goes another.
Resik's weeklong visit is sponsored by Carroll College, the Montana
Historical Society, the University of Montana's Global Leadership
Initiative and Artemis Common Ground. She was invited to Montana by Brian
Kahn, host of the Homeground Radio program, after he met her in Cuba in
Today, Resik will do a walking tour of Helena with historic
preservationists, visit the Montana Historical Society and speak with
classes at Carroll College.
Thursday morning, Resik will speak at Home Town Helena and at a Carroll
College history class, before heading to the University of Montana for a 7
p.m. evening program at the UM Urey Lecture Hall.
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