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The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 31 July 2105 — According to a report presented by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge, in the Fifth Ordinary Sessional Period of the National Assembly of Popular Power, during the first haf year of 2015, the GDP grew by 4.7%.

In reference to transport, among other things, he said: in the first half year of 2015 this sector grew 6.5%, but the goods sector fell short by 700,000 tons, so that there is production which could not be transported and raw materials which was not delivered on time to its destination; between 20 and 25% of the $2,100,000 which, up to the month of March, was paid for demurrage of containers and ships was caused by deficiencies in the railway system and road transport. In order that delegates might understand the importance and characteristics of transport, he explained that for journeys of over 280 km the best way to transport things is the railway, so that, it is important that its activity levels return to normal.

A quick look at the history of railways in Cuba permits a clearer evaluation of his proposals

Among the freedoms conceded by the cities to the Creole-Cuban landowners at the end of the 18th century was the right to import machinery, whose introduction onto the island was a decisive move for the sugar industry.

In 1794, during Francisco de Arango y Parreño and Ignacio Pedro Montalvo’s first technical study journey, what most attracted their attention was the steam engine. Arango y  Parreño saw in that the solution to the bottleneck in the Cuban sugar factories. In order to experiment he ordered a Watt, as these machines were called, named after their inventor. [1] Although the steam engine was not invented for specific purposes, the one acquired for Cuba was the first in the world which was applied to sugar production. [2] From 1820 on its use increased, continued in 1840 with the vacuum evaporator, as substitute for the open Jamaican trains, (a reference to the type of pails used in the processing machinery, and nothing to do with railway trains) and from 1850 on with the centrifuge to mechanise the purification operation. All of this made Cuba into the world’s largest sugar producer.

With the application of the steam engine to the wheels of the wagons, came the locomotive in 1804. In 1825, the first public railway in the world was opened in England and, in 1830 the first line for the haulage of passengers and goods. Arango y Parreño, being aware of the latest advances in the technology, understood the importance of its introduction on the island. On November 19, 1837, only twelve years after England, the fourth railway in the world was opened in Cuba. That day Havana was linked up with Bejucal. The following year the Havana – Güines line was completed, and twenty years after that all the sugar-producing areas in Cuba were joined by rail.

The railway dealt with the high cost of transportation, which was one of the brakes on the sugar industry. Up to 1830 the shipment of sugar from Güines to Havana represented 25% of the value of the product and, when the railway started up between those two points (1838), the transportation costs fell by 70%. But, apart from the economic considerations, the railway accelerated the unification of the island which had begun at the end of the 17th century, creating a similar physical and social picture throughout the island, leading to the emergence of Cuba as a social and economic entity.

Between 1899 and 1908, the Cuba Central Railway and the Cuba Eastern Railway were created. One of their objectives was to integrate the railways which had been constructed since colonial times. That process was speeded up by Military Orders 34 and 62 enacted by General Leonardo Wood, during the government of occupation, which developed the sugar industry as much as it did the railways. In 1909, when Major General José Miguel Gómez took on the presidency of Cuba the cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba were already connected by the Central Railway.

Taking into account the fact that Cuba is a long thin island, it was understood since colonial times that the railway was the ideal mode of transport and consequently an efficient infrastructure was created which united the country from north to south and east to west.

Owing to the deterioration suffered after 1959, the Revolutionary government proposed the building of a central double-track line, 1,149 km long, for high-speed trains. On January 29, 1975, Fidel Castro opened the first 24.2 km section, but the plan collapsed, as such things nearly always did. Thirty-one years later, the same Fidel said: “We were intending to construct a new line employing all the technical resources required. Many curves were straightened out, but the work could not be finished, not just because we did not have the experience, but also for international problems which were arising. ..” In the same speech, delivered in 2006, he added: “Today we have just taken delivery of 12 locomotives, and not just any old locomotives; they are simply the best we have ever received in our country; the most modern, the most efficient, and the most economical.” [3]

From the year 2006 up to the present the official Cuban press provides information on what happened regarding the railway. The deterioration due to lack of attention in a 15 metre strip on both sides of the track, including some stretches which remained buried under rubble, required, in the year 2010, 30 million pesos to clean up and restore. [4]

With an integrated focus on the matter, Cuba arranged the purchase of 550 wagons, tankers and rolling stock, while at the same time investing in 112 Chinese-made locomotives. [5]

They did not put enough effort into solving the difficulties presented by the railway lines; in spite of spending nearly 600 million dollars in the last five years on the acquisition of equipment, machinery, tools, material and new productive lines capable of reversing the grave deterioration in the railways.

On January 20, 2011 capital repairs were started on the 40 km of the Central Line, planned for that year. According to the engineer Bárbaro Martínez, principal specialist in the National Company of Lines and Construction Works of the railway, “The damage ws such that we had to carry out a very major reconstruction task, equivalent, you could say, to building a new line.” [7]

The deficiencies in the tracks continue to be the principal cause of accidents. Interviewed by the newspaper Granma, the engine drivers of railcar 2125, Jorge Inerarity Estrik and Joan Camayo del Pino, recognised that, apart from the deterioration of the track, many accidents occur due to crew negligence, basically due to getting drunk, and other violations, and not complying with instructions. And frequently the cattle owners intentionally let their herds wander and wait with bags and knives until they are run over [because it is illegal to kill a cow in Cuba]. [8]

In 2011, manual maintenance of more than 7,000 km of track was realised, more than that delivered in 2010. Nevertheless, in spite of the achievements in the rail system, there are still factors obstructing all the effort put in to deal with all the accumulated deterioration over decades as well as the difficult economic situation in Cuba.

The Capital Industrial Works Company (Railway Sleepers)  of Villa Clara last year was unable to meet its production plan, in spite of having built a new line with Italian technology, and a surface treatment plant. There was no lack of concrete or ballast, but there were difficulties with plastic for the excavation mechanism, the cleaning, the die-making, the service provided by the national mechanical industry, and other problems.  and other problems. “For these reasons they failed to complete 45 thousand units, which prevented the renovation of 24 km of track.” (one km of track needs 1,800 railways sleepers. Right now, they are working with the left-overs from the last half-year of 2011, having not received any supplies.

From the foregoing analysis we can draw at least three conclusions:

1 – that the importance of the railway was understood by the ranchers over two hundred years ago, and from then up to 1959 the railway worked efficiently, so much so that you could set your clock by the punctual timekeeping of the trains;

2 – the goods left untransported in the half year examined is not news, it is the result of problems related to a common factor: the non-viability of the present Cuban model; and,

3 – the surprising fact is that in spite of the effect of the railway on the other sectors of the economy, the latter increased by 4.7%.

Footnotes

1: James Watt (1736-1819) Scottish engineers who invented the double-action steam engine
2: “The sugar factory, Cuban economic and social sugar complex” (Fraginals, Manuel Moreno)
3: Juventud Rebelde (Cuban daily paper). Alina Perera Robbio “We have procured the best locomotives in the world”, Sunday January 15th, 2006
4: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Clean up the mess next to the railway track”.
5: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “The railway is waiting for its time”, Thursday, August 19, 2010
6: Granma, Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Investments which move trains” Friday May 28, 2010.
7: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Opening the way for the Central Line” Granma, Friday, 11 February, 2011.
8: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Accidents keep happening on the railway”. Granma, Thursday February 17, 2011.
9: Maylin Guerrero Ocaña. “Railway renovation moving on.”, Granma, Thursday, May 17, 2012
10: Lourdes Rey Veitía. “Without linking things up, the railway won’t advance” Monday, March 5, 2012.

Translated by GH

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How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, Havana, 17 September 2015 — 120 years ago, between 13th and 18th September 1895, twenty delegates selected from the five corps that the Libertador’s Army was divided into, and formed into a Constituent Assembly, promulgated the Constitution of Jimaguayú.

This Constitution, different from others in that it wasn’t structured in three parts — organic, dogmatic, and with a reform clause — but rather contained 24 consecutive articles without divisions into titles, sections or chapters. In it the Government of the Republic resided in a Government Council with legislative and executive powers. The executive power devolved upon the President (Salvador Cisneros Betancourt), while the legislative power stayed in the hands of the Government Council. In addition to a judicial power, organised by the Council, but functioning independently. The posts of General in Chief and Lieutenant General were vested in Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo respectively.

Appearing in the people’s history as a counterpoint to absolutism, constitutionalism is fundamental to governability. The constitutions reflect the requirements for social development. In that sense, the Magna Carta of Jimaguayú was an expression of the need of the new political and legal order of the Republic in Arms. It constitutes an important link in Cuban constitutional history.

On its 120th anniversary, the weekly Trabajadores of Monday September 7th and the daily Granma of 16th of the same month each included reports,  under the headlines: “Neither Marti nor radical”, and “120 years after Jimaguay respectively, which I am going to comment on.

1 – In Granma the historian Rolando Rodríguez is cited, who stated that Jimaguayú is a document of overwhelming importance in the history of Cuba, an indication of the legal and republican idea and the determination to provide a constitutional direction to the Cuban insurrection.

If that constitutional text is recognised as a necessity of the new political and legal order demanded by the island and an important link in our constitutional history, how can the official historiography consider it as a “document of significant importance in Cuba’s history”, without a critical reference to the present Cuban constitutional situation, which has little or nothing to do with — starting off with the divisions of power — the legacy of Jimaguayú?

2 – The article in Granma says that “Martí longed to drop the authority that the Cuban Revolutionary Party had awarded him at a representative meeting of the Mambisa combatants …” [Ed. note: term used to refer to any pro-independence fighter in the Wars of Independence]

In José Martí’s War Diary — referring to his encounter with Antonio Maceo and Máximo Gómezon May 5th 1895 in La Mejorana — he wrote “… Maceo and Gómez talk in low voices, near me [1]: hardly speak to me. There in the hallway; that Maceo has another idea about government; a council of  generals with authority through their representatives, – and a Secretary General: the land, and all its functions, which create and support the army, like Army Secretary. We are going to a room to talk. I cannot sort out the conversation for Maceo: but V. stays with me, or he goes with Gómez? And he speaks to me, interrupting me, as if I were the continuation of the shyster lawyer government, and its representative … I insist on being ousted by the representatives who are meeting to form a government. He does not  want every operational head sending his man, his creation: he will send four from the Oriente: “within 15 days they will be with you. – and will be people who will not let  Doctor Martí mess with me there …” [2]

One may deduce from this text that in La Mejorana Martí considered his removal. These were his words: “I insist in being deposed before the representatives who are meeting to select a government.” That is not a longing, but a demand to not be removed other than by an assembly of representatives.

If the Revolutionary Party of Cuba started off on the basis of an analysis of the Ten Years’ War as an organising and controlling entity, and one which promotes awareness and is an intermediary link to get to a republic and that great mission had hardly got under way, it is difficult to accept that their hope was to shed their authority.

Also, if Martí’s attachment to institutionalisation and democracy led him in 1884 to move away from the Gómez Maceo plan, when he took the opportunity to write to the General in Chief: “But there is something which is higher than all the personal sympathy which you can inspire in me, and this apparent opportunity: and it is my determination not to contribute one iota by way of a blind attachment to an idea from which all life is draining, to bring to my land a personal despotism, which would be more shameful and disastrous than the political despotism I am now supporting.” How can it be affirmed that Martí “was longing to be shot of the authority afforded him by the Revolutionary Party of Cuba”?

3. Granma says: “It is also established that every two years there would be an assembly charged with proposing necessary changes in accordance with changed circumstances, which would elevate it to a higher position than that approved in Guáimaro.”

If the 1959 revolution is seen as heir and continuation of the constitutional legacy, it would seem to be contradictory that, on taking power, instead of re-establishing the 1940 Constitution as it had promised to, it replaced it with statutes known as the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, without convening any constituent assembly.

Cuba remained without a Constitution until 1976 when there was approved the first revolutionary constitution modelled on the that of the Soviet Union, which prohibited any modification before 1992. Then, in 2002, the system installed in 1959 was declared irrevocable. With that decision, the Cuban constitution ceased to reflect ongoing changes which occur in any society, and became a braking mechanism on society.

The question is: How can our constitutional history be praised from the standpoint of a reality which negates it?

4. In the Trabajadores weekly paper, Antonio Álvarez Pitaluga states in En la de Jimaguayú that there was no balance of power and nor did they defend Martí’s thesis. It is said that Enrique Loynaz del Castillo and Fermín Valdés Domínguez defended  José Martí’s hypotheses, but I think that it is now difficult to sustain that position, because if you look through the documentation, above all the minutes of the Council of Government, you see that in all the Assembly’s discussion there was not a single mention of Martí, nor of his documents, nor any analysis of his thoughts. That is to say, they avoided it; you don’t necessarily  have to say they did it intentionally, but rather unknowingly, because many of the people there knew him, his work, his revolutionary activity, but not his thinking or his documents.

The questions are: 1 – Was Fermín Valdés Domínguez unaware of José Martí’s thinking? And 2 – if Fermín Valdés Domínguez, followed by the majority of the delegates, defended the division and limitation of powers, which was one of José Martí’s republican ideas, was the important thing that his name should appear in the documents, or that the majority should defend and impose his ideas, as actually happened?

The 120th anniversary and the two articles published demonstrate that you cannot deal with any historical event, much less one of such importance as the constitutional text of Jimaguayú, without relating it to the present in order to show that  we have either gone forwards or backwards. If we do not have regard to the limitations of the present constitution which cry out loud for fundamental reform, how does history help us?

[1] In the original, “I hear” is crossed out

[2] Martí, José. Texts chosen from three volumes. Volume III, p. 544

Translated by GH