- Student Work
Infrastructure in Cuba acts as a visual representation of the island‘s tumultuous history. Characterized in the first half of the twentieth century by a range of successful engineering projects such as the 1958 Havana Bay Tunnel [B3], the ensuing half-century of trade embargo amounting to a near blockade imposed by the US—its nearest and economically most powerful neighbor—as a sanction against socialist government rapidly curbed the island‘s access to materials and resources. It was therefore in many cases deprived of the capacity to maintain and modernize infrastructure. Given Cuba‘s inherently remote location as an island nation, its infrastructure adopted a similar penchant for improvisation, local innovation, and ad-hoc functionality.
As a general rule, the government prioritizes tourism as a catalyzing industry to spur further development. Resultingly, many infrastructural improvement projects, such as water distribution piping replacement [B1], have benefitted resort districts first to make the island more desirable for visitors, who in turn are expected to support the local economy through their consumer expenditures. Capital is then made available to fund further projects that benefit the general populace. The transparency of this approach, cited in more than a few writings on the topic, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt depending on the specific actors and multinational agencies involved in the dealmaking. This chapter will take a brief look at Cuban „infrastructures“ in the traditional sense of the word (underlying support systems that allow society to function) through the lens of four topics: water and sanitation, communications, transportation, and energy. These systems each have a range of successes and failures. Within all of them, however, common willpower is evident amongst the Cuban people to be self-reliant in the absence of better solutions. Although the strong and centralized socialist government could be criticized for withholding certain technologies or amenities from its population, it also had very few alternatives in the face of geographic isolation and trade deprivation. In perhaps even a somewhat perverse way, the issue of frequently inadequate provisions by the government forced the Cuban people to depend on each other and a welfare state, which aided in the building of a meaningful social infrastructure. An underground neighborhood intranet haphazardly strung between residents and a series of satellite nodes [B2], although crude, brought much of the urban population online well before the state telecommunications agency offered official connection options across its more formalized (and heavily monitored) network. Similarly, semi-regular power outages in the overburdened and undermaintained supply grid [B4].