Cubans tour long-neglected Capitol building during facelift

Fri Jul 10, 2015 3:10pm EDT
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By Jaime Hamre

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cubans are once again touring their Capitol, an imposing structure previously shunned as a symbol of U.S. imperialism but now undergoing renovation and set to reopen as the new home of the Communist government's National Assembly.

Built in 1929 to house Cuba's Congress, it was swiftly repurposed after the 1959 revolution along with other buildings, such as the presidential palace, seen as testament to corrupt governments too cozy with the Americans.

"It symbolized at that time a continuation of something they wanted to erase," said Jorge Cisneros, one of the principal architects of the restoration.

Most recently used for the Science and Technology Ministry, it is now experiencing renewed appreciation as Cuba and the United States are set to restore long-severed diplomatic relations on July 20.

A group of about 20 Cubans toured the echoing halls of the dust-laden neoclassical marvel on Thursday, the first regularly scheduled tour since a painstaking restoration began in 2010.

Architects declined to put a date on reopening or when the National Assembly will have its first session there, nor would they reveal the cost, which Cisneros said was being covered by the Cuban government.

Since taking over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, Cuban President Raul Castro has improved relations with Cuba's former Cold War enemy, quietly putting an end to "anti-imperialist" rallies outside the U.S. interests section, the building that will be upgraded to an embassy on July 20.

"It's been a while since Cuba has been changing. The U.S. has arrived very late," said Iraida Lopez, a Cuban-American visiting the Capitol from New Jersey whose family left the island in 1968 after her father's business was nationalized.   Continued...

Cuba's Capitol, or El Capitolio as it is called by Cubans (R), is seen in Havana July 9, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini