Chronic Blowouts

Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES — In the last six months, the tires of the motorcycle that my mother uses have had to be replaced three times. The most recent one didn’t last thirty days. It fell apart, worn out with huge gaping holes.

A tire for a motorcycle costs about 30 CUCs (35 usd) – a tremendously high amount here, not nearly what my mother makes in a month. So if you want to be able to escape the nightmare of urban transportation, you have to tighten your belt that much more.

Yesterday, before she discovered the latest hole in one of the bike’s tires, she left the house with the aim of buying herself a pair of sandals. When she got home, with tears in her eyes, she told me: “Osme, the hell with my sandals. Now I’m going to have to scrape together more money for yet another tire.”

I don’t have to say what feelings of powerlessness and empathy I had for her. I wonder: Is what’s happening something normal?

Yes and no.

From a general point of view yes, because the same thing happens to other people we know.

This means that we’re importing poor quality tires. My stepfather says that the better ones are Russian and Czech, but those are only sold by independent motorcycle repair shops, because the ones they sell at the state-run stores are made in China or Thailand.

I don’t know what justifies these bad purchases abroad. Though they may be profitable for the government, for the public they mean nothing but more hardship.

Another and contributing problem is the bad condition of our streets. In the Cojimar community, almost none of them are decent. Each of the four streets surrounding my mother’s house has cracks out of which shoots of grass have already started to grow.

I was saying that this is normal, but yet it’s not. It ceases to be logical, because logic would dictate that a normal tire should hold up for at least six months.

On top of that, in the five years since my mother has been riding her government-provided motorcycle, the agency in charge of this has only given her one tire.

We know that the budget in distinct areas of socio-economic life in Cuba has been cut back due to the world economic crisis, and we also know — from experiencing it daily — the impact of the US embargo afflicting our country.

The Cuban government makes a lot of effort when it comes to trade, and its seeking the lowest possible prices could play into why its purchases aren’t the best. In that case however, the prices in retail markets should be reflected in lower prices for the consumer.

They can’t seek a big profit on purchases relying on the fact that consumers have no other alternatives. Without competition, the government bears all the responsibility in this regard.

I have to stress, nothing justifies a tire lasting only a month, especially when one costs two month our wages.

6 thoughts on “Chronic Blowouts

  • Yes, I’m having the same experience. I bought a new bike here recently and have already had a flat. All tubes in Canada are made in China. I went to a quality bike store to see if I could get one from elsewhere but they were all Chinese made.

    Quality bike parts used to come from Japan. I’m wondering if this is another sign of capitalism’s imminent demise. Where can it go after making our planet the junk capital of the universe?

  • More disinformation from ‘Moses’. See below for background. There was a warrantee with the bike I bought. I could have taken it back to the CUC store but I suspected it would take more time than I had as a visitor to have it fixed and a replacement was not likely to be any better. I passed the warrantee on to the man I gave the bike to.

    I’ve also written about donating a Sony DVD player bought at another CUC store in another area of Cuba to an orphanage that required, with some effort, my getting the head of the orphanage to sign the warrantee. The salespeople at the store were quite insistent that I go through with the procedure in order to have a valid warrantee.

    Yet you write, “There are very few product guarantees in Cuba,” ” because there are no torts in Cuba with regards to product liability.”

    Torts are litigation, involving judges and lawyers and legal expenses, that result in more money going to the legal profession than to plaintiffs many times. It’s what Americans are notorious for – not so bad in Canada – so not surprising ‘Moses’ the American thinks this way.

    But there are other ways of doing things that ‘Moses’, the American, has trouble understanding. The CUC stores in Cuba I dealt with do not require tort law in order to do the right thing, unlike the country he lives in.

    ‘Moses’ writes that the quality of product puts Cubans “in the position of buying the same product over and over again.” Just like us.

  • Osmel,

    I bought a new bicycle in Cuba to get around. The price was about the same as a Chinese bike would cost at Canadian Tire, a large popular chain store in Canada with a reputation for low prices. The bike looked great but the quality was definitely substandard to what is sold at Canadian Tire.

    I was told the Cuban bike’s frame was made in Cuba but all the parts came from China. It was the parts that were the problem. The rear tire’s inner tube was defective and required patching from the first day. Nuts and bolts stripped when tightening making properly adjusting gear and brake cables impossible. I was able to use only one gear and the brakes were marginal, requiring the use of feet to come to a full stop.

    I asked myself why, in Canada, I could buy a bike made in China that was better in quality than one in Cuba made with hardware from China. I assumed that the purchasing power that the size of Canada brings – with more than four times the population of Cuba, is part of the answer.

    Canada also receives advantages from the immense trade taking place with China, offering economies of scale. The distance between China, and Canada and the US’s west coast are less than between China and Cuba.

    The US blockade plays a role. The Helms-Burton Act states that ships docking at Cuban ports are not allowed to dock at U.S. ports for six months, making it expensive to transit the Panama Canal for Cuba alone without being able to go on to east coast US cities. It also means there will be infrequent deliveries.

    Osmel writes, in Cuba “consumers have no other alternatives. Without competition, the government bears all the responsibility in this regard.” This is true, and it is likely that the government could do a better job, but it would be useful to keep the above factors in mind that it has to deal with, outside its control.

    The bike I bought sold for 130 CUCs, an immense price for most Cubans. When I left, I gave it to a Cuban man who I became acquainted with. He was a professional, an assistant manager with a young family. When I asked him if he knew of someone who could use a bike, he said he could as his family did not have one. I was ashamed to give him a bike in such poor condition.

    I would also like to note that although a Chinese bike for sale in Canada at the same price as in Cuba is of better quality, it is still not the best, barely adequate, expected not to last and to be thrown out after a short period of time.

    Capitalism has flooded Canada with cheap throwaway goods, taking away manufacturing jobs from Canadians and filling up our garbage dumps while polluting our planet – freighters are major polluters – and burning up non-renewable resources. This is not the way the world should be run.

  • I’ve tried to find tubes lately that are not made in China, and so far have had no luck. Even the German and Italian brands are made in China now. Chinese made tires and tubes definitely are getting lower quality to all countries, not just Cuba. I’ve had a bunch of blowouts on my bike this year, this after going several years without a single flat.

  • A Chinese businessman in the seat next to me on a flight from Mexico City to Havana once told me that it is common practice to sell recalled or reconditioned products to Cuba because there are no torts in Cuba with regards to product liability. That is to say, that Cuba´s importers look for low-priced goods and oftentimes, foreign companies who do business with Cuba will sell Cuba those products they could not sell elsewhere. Cuban consumers suffer because while these prices may seem cheap in comparison to similar products sold elsewhere in the world, their ultimate retail price is still quite high to a Cuban who earns only 13 cuc per month. Worse, the quality of the product as reflected above puts the Cuban in the position of buying the same product over and over again. There are very few product guarantees in Cuba. Before you blame the US embargo, please note that higher quality tires for example would hardly sell for just 30 cuc even if they were available to be purchased. Also note that Cuba imposes a 240% import tax on most foreign goods.

Comments are closed.