HAVANA TIMES — When the Cuban economy was given a boost at the beginning of this century thanks to Venezuela, its revolution and its immense oil puddles, the island’s leadership began to act as though finally, after many blunders, Good Fortune herself had knocked on their door.
Like a poor person who wins the lottery and hurriedly throws out all of their old junk – that’s how we acted when luck began to smile at us, restructuring everything and putting on our Sunday best to welcome longed-for development in style.
Some of the changes made were profound (like the Energy Revolution), while others were merely cosmetic. The latter included the architectural redesign of many State offices and establishments, with a view to fitting them with air conditioning. Inlaid aluminum work, glass panes and PVC panels came to replace the wan and battered pine-wood blinds.
People were jumping with joy, gawking at the new glass panes and enthusiastically awaiting the arrival of their air conditioning – but the cold didn’t last long for Cuba’s poor.
A decade later, the star of the Bolivarian revolution began to wane and many of the investments and changes made in its wake were left unfinished. Once again, Good Fortune made the Castros dress up for the ball and stood them up.
Let us have another look at the air-conditioned offices. The ACs never arrived, or were installed and broke down, or are still working but cannot be used for very long because they make the electricity bill skyrocket.
Neither air nor sunlight can get into locales that have been designed like fish-tanks in any natural way. Lamps and fans that move the stale air about must be switched on during the day. In my current neighborhood (Alamar’s Zone 7), they restructured the market to fit it with air conditioning units and today the place looks like a modern version of Ali Baba’s cave. When there’s a power cut – as is often the case – it is simply stifling in there.
The worst part is that it is now much more difficult and expensive to go back to the humble pine-wood blinds of old.
In the course of a decade, the modernization fever spread across the length and depth of the Cuban economy. The painful lessons learned during the Special Period, the mental and material transformations that took place under the reign of scarcity, were ditched out the window like a dirty rag. Below are a number of examples of this:
- From the construction of low-cost housing to the import of “petro-homes.”
- From urban agriculture and permacultural principles to a return to the Green Revolution (transgenics included)
- From flesh-and-blood teachers from the community to video lessons and intensively trained teachers brought from other provinces and placed in a very different socio-cultural context
- From the collection of garbage by horse-drawn carts and the use of small, local dumpsites to the collection of garbage by trucks and the use of central, mega-dumpsites, plus the import of sophisticated technology for waste treatment. Currently, both the garbage collection and processing systems that are working at half-steam.
- From alternative, spiritual and personalized medicine to the use of sophisticated equipment (such as those employed for physiotherapy), operated by nameless technicians.
- From natural pharmaceutical products to biotechnological medication, some of it disguised as “natural.”
- From old but reliable American and Soviet household appliances to their Chinese versions – more fragile, less powerful and much more difficult to fix.
What, then, are we to do now? Put our feet on the ground, face up to our real situation and try not to forget the lessons of the past, so that Cuba’s “Apostles of Development” do not con us once again.