Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The closest thing to truth...

that you'll find reported about Cuba in the mainstream media.

The L.A. Times, of all publications, published an article today about the state of Cuban infrastructure. Aside from the obligatory mention of the embargo as one of the reason's for Cuba as a failed state, the rest is for the most part spot on.

Some excerpts:

Today, the buses barely keep Cubans moving. Many people spend as much as two hours each night getting home from their jobs in the center of Havana.

Their homes are also in a sad state, with at least 500 buildings in the capital collapsing each year, by the government's own count. Their utilities are decrepit too: Water and power distribution systems are corroded patchworks predating the 1959 revolution, and olfactory evidence of the state of the sewer system wafts throughout the city.

Cuba is falling apart — literally.

Except for a few high-profile historical restoration projects such as the Art Deco buildings of Old Havana, the country's structural decay seems to worsen with each month.

"It's not a question of repairing anymore. Everything needs to be rebuilt," says Julio, a construction worker who spends more time as an unlicensed cabdriver than on state building sites. "There is no material and no money to buy it, so nothing has been maintained."

Few Cubans will talk openly about what might be wrong with a political and economic system that even in boom times can't keep the wheels of public transportation turning or the lights on...

But they complain quietly that there is more to their urban squalor than the embargo or the loss of Soviet aid 15 years ago can explain.

"The problem is that the government owns everything, and people only take care of what is their own," says another moonlighting cabdriver, Arturo, who buzzes his plastic-encased motorbike around basketball-sized craters in the asphalt where the Malecon seaside promenade meets 23rd Street. "Cubans are very clever and improvisational. We can fix anything. But there isn't the will to do it unless it is to improve your own conditions."

The lack of available or affordable parts, tools and building materials has had a cancerous effect on the already degraded infrastructure. Doorknobs disappear from public buildings, screws from wall-mounted shelves and dispensers. Along the Malecon, not a single storm-drain cover survives to prevent rubbish from clogging the sewers, the square metal grates apparently useful to screen windows.

But it is the buildings themselves, as well as vehicles and farm equipment, that are at risk of collapse from the pilfering. A tow-truck driver describes how the vehicles he pulls tend to lose their spark plugs, air filters, lug nuts and rear-view mirrors from the point of collection to delivery. Because most cars and trucks are state property, they are seen as fair game by Cubans hoping to make a few dollars by selling the purloined parts.

Even the tourism industry cash cow is vulnerable to widespread theft and minimal investment. Ancient air conditioners blow the smell of mold into "five-star" hotel rooms where renovations have been limited to the lobbies.

Decades of stoically making do with shortages and dysfunction have engendered a paralyzing passivity among Cubans, at least about the quality of their administrators and the political system that guides them.

While Cubans succumb to the daily demands of resolving their food, shelter and finance problems, their former countrymen across the Florida Straits say they expect to be called on to help when the next leadership takes on the massive task of reconstruction.

Cubans have been taught to fear economic overtures from the exile community in Miami, where some who lost property to the revolution nurture hopes of reclaiming it after the Castro regime comes to a close and — they believe — a more democratic and free-market society emerges.

But with every third family thought to have relatives among the 1.2 million Cuban exiles in the United States, the younger generation has expectations of cross-straits collaboration.

No comments: