Maintenance: The Bad Word of Cuban Economics

Yenisel Rodriguez Pérez

Many Havana buildings are collapsing from many decades without maintenance. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – Why do Cuban investors constantly suspend the allocation of funds for planned maintenance work? So many things have been done wrong in this sense that no one believes that story about lack of experience, poor training or insufficient resources any more.

There is no doubt that behind this widespread ill lies the personal interest of investors and political decision-makers. How much money is saved when a project does not include a maintenance budget? A lot.

This money can be used to create a dozen other projects and to create a climate of governability: it means doing a lot with little.

There are also fraudulent investments that make many government investors rich. In both cases, the results are economic disasters that are presented to public opinion as errors in judgment.

A project that has been suspended for lack of maintenance is also a kind of magic word that gives access to the national budget anew. Like commercial brands of extremely poor quality, designed in complicity with the pragmatism of sweat shops in China, Vietnam and other parts of the world, it establishes fluid and renewed commercial itineraries that drip illegal dividends little by little.

This is the way in which a Third World economy based on the rendering of services manages to design its own patterns of planned obsolescence – in a rather unrefined manner but with greater, monopolistic scope.

The official discourse about “unforeseen mistakes”, the “this time we will succeed, thanks to the experience accumulated,” insults the common sense of Cuban consumers.

We have the case of failed productive maintenance, in which quality ceases to constitute a constant process of improvement, but rather retains the conception of subsidized products that do not abide by quality standards, even though such products are sold in the domestic market at international (or higher) prices and are of lesser quality than imported products.

Preventive maintenance exists only in the form of inoperative norms and commissions. Very few such protocols lead to any real action. No defect, no matter how repetitive, is ever detected – these rather multiply in the absence of a sense of belonging among those involved in this “State” task, shortening the life of all appliances produced. The cost of repairs and maintenance skyrockets this way.

Lastly, we have predictive maintenance, the most precarious and counterproductive for decision-makers and investors. Anticipating maintenance work is politically nonsensical for an authoritarian regime where power is preserved through force and not through persuasive mechanisms or strategies.

What sense is there in detecting symptoms before these become evident or give rise to an economic catastrophe? Why take preventive measures when the political present and profits are already guaranteed?

The coming New Year announces new disasters. These will be called “unforeseen incidents”, and promising lessons will surely be drawn from them. Hundreds of buses used for inter-provincial trips will be out of circulation for lack of maintenance, a whole lot of super-modern Chinese locomotives will rust in underequipped workshops and a new harvest season for political and market entrepreneurs will start anew.

2 thoughts on “Maintenance: The Bad Word of Cuban Economics

  • An accountable tort legal system is just one thing that is missing. Cuba also lacks a system of clear title ownership of property. Who really owns the building the 6 families have been living in since the original owners went into exile 50 years ago? Would you pay for materials to repair the building, when the other families refuse to lift a finger? What about the guy next door who renovated his apartment to add a shoddily constructed loft for his daughter & her husband? The addition put a strain on the building and now the walls leak.

    Meanwhile, the building materials the residents were promised by the local CDR were delivered months or years late and short by half or three quarters. The missing supplies having been diverted and sold on the black market, or used to repair the nice home of some senior party official.

    Further adding to the difficulties has been the lack of a mortgage market in Cuba. For 55 years, nobody has been allowed to borrow a line of credit on the equity of their home to do renovations or improvements. The value of the real estate remained locked inside the bricks and mortar, which decayed and crumbled over the decades. This is one more way Cuban socialism has destroyed the wealth of the nation.

  • Accountability, enforced by a tort legal system, is a necessary evil. Even General Motors, in the most litigious country on the planet, still tried to slip one past Americans. Imagine then, what an underpaid factory worker in Cuba would do (or not do) to recognize and prevent product defects. After three generations of socialism, Cubans simply accept poor quality products and shoddy building construction as the norm. Are the Castros to blame? You bet. Because of Castro-style socialism, product liability and safety guarantees are non-existent. When a balcony falls to the street after a strong rain, no one is too blame. If a bottle of rum has been watered down with paint thinners, you don’t get a refund from the store you bought it from. These failings are a direct result of the Castro regime’s institutional infallibility.

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