Chasing After Concrete Blocks in Cuba

Jorge Milanés Despaigne


HAVANA TIMES — “The trucks bring 600 concrete blocks a time,” Belkis says to me with a rude tone of voice.

“That’s fine,” I reply. “But there’s something I don’t quite understand: the time these materials are received and how they are sold.”

The truck just arrived. I see the loaders passing other blocks without first taking them into the warehouse for inventory. The blocks are going straight from the truck to a trailer, “how do you explain that” I asked out loud?

“They’re for State subsidized construction work, they were already reserved,” she replies.

“And why does the same truck sell these same blocks at [the higher price] of 10 pesos the unit outside?” I ask.

“Those blocks are produced privately,” she answers.

“So, the blocks produced by private contractors are reddish and come in a different truck,” I retorted and walked out of the office feeling very angry. “Go where you please,” I heard her say in the distance.

In order to take the materials out of the warehouse, those who have received a State subsidy have to have a check issued by the bank. I wanted to see how that person who had received the subsidy took out the blocks Belkis had supposedly sold her.

“Where’s the driver of the truck?” I asked at the entrance.

“It’s me,” the person there said. “Relax, bro, I’ll bring you your blocks this afternoon.”

The torrential rain that day, however, made it impossible for the driver to return to the warehouse. Though the bank is closed on Saturday, the blocks that had come in the day before were all sold. Loaders would walk in and out of the trailer carrying blocks, sold at who knows how much (in this case, they were selling them inside the warehouse, not out on the street).

There, 300 blocks were set aside for the lady who had allegedly reserved them all, 600 blocks in total (according to the warehouse woman).I continued to wait for the truck to arrive. At 5 pm, I headed home without any blocks.

At 8 am the next day, Belkis said to me: “I’ve seen you here since Thursday. The concrete block company doesn’t open on Sundays. You can go, I’ll make sure to set aside your blocks.”

There are far too many problems and speaking to the manager is impossible: she’s either at a meeting, away, having lunch or something else. You can’t believe what people there tell you. I was there until ten in the morning and the blocks never arrived. You can also buy these at a different warehouse, but the problem is that you’re assigned a certain amount of money and the price of transporting the materials home varies.

At 7 am on Monday, Belkis saw me sitting there, came over and said to me: “Give me your papers. I’m not going to be here and I don’t want any problems with your blocks when the truck comes in.” I gave her the documents but (obviously) stayed put.

This is by no means an isolated incident. The issue has been addressed in the TV program Cuba dice (“Cuba Says”), the radio broadcast Haciendo Radio (“On the Radio”) and other spaces, but nothing changes. Such incidents, at least here, are something we see every day.

The truck arrived at 11:45 am. Everyone there cheered for me: I was finally able to buy the diabolical concrete blocks. And that was just the blocks! I can only imagine what lies ahead to obtain the other building materials.

7 thoughts on “Chasing After Concrete Blocks in Cuba

  • So what?

  • But you are not even from Cuba!

  • Ironic isn’t it? The end result is that she gets her water tank replaced but the quality of the water system in the street that takes the water to that tank suffers because of all the “shortcuts” taken in the system to make up for the materials sold “on the left’ as they say in Cuba. But then again, that is what Castro socialism is all about, isn’t it? Individuals may prosper because of outside/illegal help, but overall the system (i.e. Cubans) fails.

  • Exactly. And according to Granma, they are being made (formed) in great quantities in Cuba. So the only reason there exists that Jorge has felt compelled to write two posts journaling his struggle to buy blocks must be due to mismanagement.

  • Cement blocks are going for $3 each at my local building supplier. If I order in large quantities, I can get them at half the price, delivered to my home.

    With the average income in Canada at $928 per week, the price of cement locks are dirt cheap.

  • Odd you mention Home Depot. Last summer my girlfriend in Havana replaced the water tank on her roof and needed a new section of PVC pipe about a meter long. It as 3 CUC at the TRD, less than 2 CUC in the street. But she went without water for 3 days until she could find a municipal worker laying new pipe in the street who for 20 CUP (75 cents) would cut the length she needed, set it aside and turn his back so she could walk away with it. Her comment was “I love corruption, it allows us to survive.”

    I was in Home Depot shortly after returning home and checked the price for the exact pipe she waited 3 days to get. It was 75 cents.

  • Frickin’ socialism. If that was a Home Depot, they would be falling all over themselves trying to sell you those concrete blocks. You can’t blame the embargo on this one. This blocks are made in Cuba. There is plenty of the raw materials to make them. Not to mention recycling the brick and mortar from all the buildings collapsing every week. This is a management problem. The managers-in-chief…. the Castro brothers.

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