Cuba is falling apart — literally.The decay is not just in buildings and homes, but also in the nation's tourism and transportation systems:
Even as its economy booms thanks to a thriving tourism industry, brisk nickel exports and cheap oil from ideologically aligned Venezuela, the social benefits are difficult to see at street level. 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."
Some blame the decrepitude on the U.S. economic embargo that has blocked travel and the flow of goods to the island for nearly 45 years in an effort — through nine U.S. administrations — to starve Cuba into abandoning what Washington sees as a ruinous adherence to communism.
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 — especially since President Fidel Castro turned over power to his brother six weeks ago for surgery deemed a state secret. 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."
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.Residents have been socialized to a state of cultural acquiesence to the dilapidation:
Rail tracks link most major cities, offering an affordable means of transportation, but the lines are rusted, engine breakdowns frequent and passenger service so primitive most travelers prefer to hitchhike.
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."Well, let's just say Cuba's physical plant makes the situation inauspicious for the emergence of a socialist utopia -- despite what your pro-Cuban leftist proselytizers have told you.
It's very tranquil here, very safe. We like it that way and don't want things to change, at least not suddenly," says Monica, a 30-something engineer asked if the conditions of urban life are frustrating. Like many asked about their expectations for the future, she claims not to have given it much thought, even with the only leader she has ever known now uncharacteristically in the background.
The article notes as well that Hugo Chavez's Venezuela is sending billions of dollars in support of the regime, which is now replacing the tens of billions annually Cuba received from Moscow during the Cold War.
I blogged last month about repression in Cuba in the context of Raul Castro's accession to power.