The Cuban Railroad Died

Railroad in Cuba. (EFE)

Railroad in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 29 January 2016 – My father is a train engineer. It has been decades since he drove a train, long years in which he hasn’t sounded the whistle of a locomotive while passing through a village with children running alongside the line. However, this still agile retiree originally from Matanzas still marks the 29th of January on the calendar and says “it is my day.” The day still smells of iron braking on iron, and has the rush of the platform, where some leave and others say goodbye.

The date honors the guild established in 1975, during the finishing of the first stretch of the central line. At the celebration Fidel Castro operated a Soviet locomotive, a moment that is still a source of amusement among elderly train engineers. “Everything was ready and he didn’t even get the credit of making that mass move,” says an old conductor in his eighties. The event, more about politics than railroads, was enough to let the imposed anniversary go.

The 19th of November should be the date for those who carry the iron serpent circulating in our blood. The day the first rail link in Cuba was completed, between Havana and Bejucal, in 1837, should get all the credit to earn itself a celebration that goes beyond the fanfare of the politicians and the headlines of the official press. In those nearly 17 miles (27.3 kilometers) of the initial line, a lineage began that refuses to die.

Now, when I stand in front of the lines at La Coubre terminal in Havana and observe the disaster that is rail transport in Cuba today, I ask myself if the era of the “sons of the railroad” will come to an end. Old cars, unsafe, accidents, delays, long lines to buy a ticket, luggage thefts, the stench of the toilets… and an iron fence that isolates the platform and those going aboard from those who are saying goodbye.

The Cuban railroad died. There is not much to celebrate on this day.

48 thoughts on “The Cuban Railroad Died


    MLB NEWS: Cuba’s Gurriel brothers believed to have defected – Yulieski has been top player on island; Lourdes a top prospect – By Jesse Sanchez
    SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Two top players from the most famous baseball family in Cuba are not expected to return to the island.
    Brothers Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 22, and Yulieski Gurriel, 31, are believed to have defected from Cuba’s Ciego de Avila team following the Caribbean Series that concluded Sunday in order to seek contracts with Major League teams, according to sources. Lourdes is considered the top prospect in Cuba while his brother is considered the country’s best player.
    Both have repeatedly expressed a desire to leave the island legally and with the permission of the Cuban government.
    Their defection was first reported by Miami’s El Nuevo Herald.
    Yulieski Gurriel, one of Cuba’s most celebrated and decorated players, is considered to be Major League-ready and could possibly make it to the Majors this season. The infielder was an Olympian in 2004 and has represented Cuba in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments. He’s been part of Cuban championship teams at the Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Baseball Championships, International Cup and Caribbean Series.

  2. YOUTUBE: CUBA: Caridad Diego on Government Persecution of Apostolic Movement

    For years, churches affiliated with the Apostlic Movement, a charismatic, evangelical network of churches in Cuba have complained of persecution and have given evidence of repeated violations of their religious liberty.

    The churches and the network have been denied the right to register and receive official recognition. One of the main leaders, Pastor Omar Gude Perez is serving a 6 1/2 year prison sentence on trumped up charges. Authorities have repeatedly threatened to confiscate the family’s home and goods. Other leaders have reported cases of harassment, arbitrary detention, confiscation of their homes and personal or church property. Churches have been completely
    demolished without warning while others have been forcibly shut down.

    The Cuban government has not responded to requests for an explanation and continues to maintain that there is religious freedom in Cuba.

    However, in early 2010, Caridad Diego, the long-time head of the Office of Religous Affairs for the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party addressed a group of leaders from the Cuban Council of Churches and openly admitted to the government’s targeted persecution of churches affiliated with the Apostolic Movement. Some of those in attendance were so shocked by her admission that they clandestinely filmed her speech.

    The video was smuggled out of the country and leaders of the Apostolic Movement asked Christian Solidarity Worldwide to make it public

  3. YOUTUBE: CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY WORLDWIDE CUBA-Footage and testimony of destruction of church in Santiago de Cuba . On November 20th, 2007 the Church of the Apostles in the Abel Santamaria neighborhood of Santiago de Cuba was razed to the ground by Cuban authorities. Officials used heavy equipment including bulldozers and heavy duty metalcutters, as helicopters circled overhead. Music and audio equipment and other church property were confiscated by the government. Pastor Alain Toledano, who leads the 700 member church and other church leaders were not given advance notice of the demolition. Their telephone lines were cut during the operation preventing them from communicating with one another.


    CAPITOL HILL CUBANS: Cuban Regime Demolishes Evangelical Church; Pastor, Dozens Arrested

    Evangelical Pastor Arrested During Demolition Of A Temple In Santiago De Cuba

    The evangelical pastor Marilin Alayo was arrested today, Friday, during the demolition of a temple in the Abel Santamaria district in Santiago de Cuba, as reported to this newspaper by Pastor Bernardo de Quesada, founder of the Apostolic Movement, a Christian group that separated from the Cuban Council of Churches in 2003.

    The demolition comes at a time when the church pastor and Alayo’s husband, Alain Toledano, is traveling in Miami.

    Pastor Toledano explained through a message on Facebook that, so far, he has been unable to talk to his wife, who is still being held incommunicado, along with pastors of the network and the local church. “More than 40 of our spiritual children are detained in the school in the municipality of Guama, they were beaten, abused, threatened. The other disciples do not know where they are, there are many people detained and so far we do not know where they are,” he wrote.

    Liudmila Cedeño, an activist with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), confirmed to 14ymedio that at 5:00 am on Friday a large group of people, among whom were prosecutors, police and officials from the Institute of Physical Planning, proceeded to demolish the temple of the apostolic ministry.

    DATE: 22/02/2016 (19:00 h)
    LOCATION: Instituto Cervantes – Auditorio
    211-215 East 49th Street – 10017 – New York City
    LIMITED SPACE (42 openings remaining)
    TICKETS: $20 – 212-308-7720 or IN LINK BELOW

    We will review the professional career and life of one of the most followed bloggers in the world: Yoani Sánchez. Through her blog, translated into more than 17 languages ​​and has reached 14 millontes access, Yoani Sanchez, in her view exposes the problems of Cuban society. He says it will be possible to resolve them through a open dialogue among Cubans and of all opinions which will emerge the best solutions. She has been honored with numerous awards and distinctions: the Spanish newspaper El Pais in 2008 awarded the Ortega y Gasset Journalism Prize, in the section on digital journalism; Time magazine selected in 2008 among the hundred most influential people in the world; Generation Y, her blog, was chosen by Time and CNN among the twenty best blogs in the world; also he won the contest BOBs Deutsche Welle; and also it was the first blogger to get a Maria Moors Cabot Prize, in 2009. For the last two years Yoani Sánchez is the director of the Cuban Newspapaer “14ymedio”

    This event is part of Havana Evenings Program.

    General Admission: $ 20. You may purchase the tickets over the phone (212-308-7720), at ICNY (before 6:30PM the day of the event) or online – A Free admission for members Instituto Cervantes & Centro Cultural Cubano. Mandatory RSVP at . Please show up your card member at the door the day of the concert. We reserved 1 ticket per member

  6. In 1958, Cuba had 15,164 kilometers of railway; 565 locomotive; 400 passenger cars; 100 boxcars and more than 10,000 freight cars. Of the 15,164 kilometers of railway, 5,862 were of public service and 9,302 serviced mainly the sugar industry. Cuba had more railroads per square mile than any other country in the world.

    Garrido Shops, next to city of Camagüey

    Since 1902 Camagüey, due to its geographical location, has been the railroad center of Cuba. The headquarters of the industry were established there, with the general offices, the Garrido shops and the Antilla Terminal, built on the Nipe Bay.

  7. YOUTUBE: Respuesta de #TodosMarchamos al canciller del regimen Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla – El canciller de la dictadura cubana ha declarado recientemente que en Cuba se permite la protesta pacifica. Hace 10 meses la Campana #TodosMarchamos es reprimida violentamente. Las imagenes demuestran las mentiras y el cinismo del canciller Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla


    EURO NEWS: Foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla spells out Cuba’s new revolution

    euronews: “The dialogue opened with the US and the EU on internal reforms seems to have had a moderate impact in the human rights issue. Why are non violent Cuban citizens, like the Ladies in White not allowed to protest freely?”
    Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla: “The fact that we are developing a socialist economy does not imply in any way any restrictions on the possibility of working on the basis of common economic interests, developing economic partnerships through joint ventures.

    “About the Cuban political model and the human rights it is true that there are different perceptions. But I have to deny that people like the ones you have mentioned can not protest peacefully, in fact they do it quite frequently.

    “I should also add that it is true that we may have differences in our respective visions about human rights. For me, human rights are universal and indivisible. The human rights issue is submitted to a high politicisation and the existence of double standards. Unfortunately this happens quite often in the debate on this matter around the world and some media also have biased views on this matter.

    “For me, for example, the right to employment is a fundamental human right. What would half of the young people in Spain who have not access to a job think about this? For me it is a fundamental human right. I also think that economic, social and cultural rights are not merely a laissez-faire, but the governments are directly responsible to provide them. These rights are indivisible and can not be separated from the political rights and civil liberties.

    “We have mentioned the American democracy in relation to the issue of the blockade and the real will of the voters. Anyway, I recognise that there are different political models and I feel very happy and comfortable with the Cuban democracy.”

    euronews: “Your government has always denied the existence of political prisoners but many international NGOs, including some which are even tolerated inside Cuba , denounce that actually there are still prisoners of conscience. They also denounce that the campaign of intimidation and repression against the dissidence and opposition has not ceased. What do you have to say to these accusations?”

    Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla: “I simply refute them. First, we will have to agree on a definition of what a political prisoner is. If you believe that a person who receives payments from a foreign government to perform certain political activities is a political prisoner, then we have different opinions. In France or the United States those people will be considered as “agents provocateurs”. We know that some of these groups, that operate and are tolerated in Cuba, receive funding from European countries or the US government itself.

    “Very serious violations of human rights are happening in the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base, a matter that you have not mentioned by the way. It is known that people have remained kidnapped there in a legal limbo for more than a decade, judged by military courts without any right to defence. They are even force-fed when they go on a hunger strike, under conditions that are widely recognised as systematic torture. It is known that some countries are somehow connected to these kidnappings by keeping secret jails or illegal prisons where these people were retained before being taken to Guantanamo. I could not mention any country that has reached perfection in the human rights issue. I do not know how the human rights would be in Europe if you had suffered the same conditions like those in Cuba with the economic, commercial and financial blockade. Or if a superpower- on the same scale as the US and Cuba- would try to force a regime change in Europe. Those are the circumstances in which my country has lived for five decades.”



    FOX NEWS LATINO: Cuban opposition group reports 1,414 political arrests in January

    The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation on Thursday said that political repression continues to increase on the island, adding that there were at least 1,414 political arrests in January.

    The opposition group, the only one to tally incidents of this kind in Cuba, said in its monthly report on political repression that the number of arrests in January was exceeded only last November, when there were 1,447.

    The Commission, headed by Elizardo Sanchez, said that, besides the arrests, in January 56 peaceful opposition figures were the victims of physical attacks, three suffered acts of repudiation, there were 68 incidents of harassment and two of vandalism.

    According to the Commission, these acts were orchestrated by State Security and other “repressive bodies and parapolice elements” in Cuba, where the government “has been exercising power in an authoritarian manner for 58 years.”

    The government, the organization says, is resorting more frequently to prolonged arrests and temporary incarcerations without trial, and these can last for months, as a “policy designed to wear down the opposition members.”



    AMERICAS SOCIETY-COUNCIL OF THE AMERICAS: Weekly Chart: Cuba’s Internet Black Hole – Elizabeth Gonzalez – February 04, 2016

    As of January 2016, Cuba has lofty plans to connect 50 percent of homes with broadband internet by 2020. Across the Americas, household internet access stands at 60 percent. But in 2014, just 3.4 percent of Cubans had internet at home. Overall, internet users amount to 25.7 percent of the Cuban population. That includes Cubans surfing on the national intranet that is restricted to local websites, and which costs $0.60 an hour to use in public Wi-Fi spots, as opposed to $2 per hour for the World Wide Web. Either way, the cost is significant in a country where the average monthly wage is $20.

    It’s not just the low salaries that pose a barrier: Cubans are prohibited from purchasing internet for their homes. The government’s plan prioritizes those who already have dial-up internet, such as the self-employed or those who work in authorized sectors like telecommunications. A publication from ETECSA—the state telecom company—says Cubans will first need active landlines to connect to broadband, which the majority (75.9 percent) of Cubans don’t have.

    AS/COA Online tracks the stats as the broadband plan kicks off.


    GRANMA CUBA: Resultados, insatisfacciones y expectativas… la cuerda floja de Etecsa

    Etecsa aún debe dar solución a varios puntos pendientes en la agenda que perjudican la labor de la empresa y ponen bajo un catalejo pú­blico sus prestaciones

  11. CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION (Video) : Regina family’s dream vacation in Cuba turns to ‘nightmare’ – The Morrison family says money, jewelry taken from the safe in their hotel room – By Peter Mills

    Members of a Regina family say their dream vacation in Cuba “turned into a nightmare”.

    Kelly Morrison, her husband Steve, and their two children, stayed at the Memories Resort in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba from Jan. 26 to Feb. 2.

    “Everything was great for the first few days,” Kelly Morrison said in a news release. “That all changed, however, last Saturday.”

    On the morning of Jan. 30, Morrison opened their hotel room safe and found her wedding rings and money was nowhere to be found. She said about $170 Cdn. and 130 Cuban pesos (approximately $7 Cdn.) was missing.

    When Morrison reported it as a theft to the hotel staff, they were told to fill out an report. That’s when Morrison said she was interviewed by the resort’s staff.

    “Rather than an interview, it became an interrogation,” she said. “It was clear they didn’t believe our story. They thought we made up the whole thing.”

    Morrison said security staff at the resort then went to their hotel room to search the family’s belongings. The missing items were not found.

    According to Morrison, they were then told by the resort staff to leave everything in their rooms, including their passports. The family was moved to another part of the resort.​

  12. The
    Hershey Cuban Railway
    Allen Morrison
    In 1916 the Hershey Chocolate Corporation of Pennsylvania purchased large tracts of land and built a sugar mill 45 km east of Havana, about halfway between the capital and Matanzas [see map of Havana province]. To transport its produce to nearby ports and its workers to adjacent towns, it built a network of 135 km of electric railways. The first branches were steam-powered, but in 1919 Hershey Cuban Railway began ordering electric equipment from J. G. Brill and General Electric. Electric passenger service between Matanzas and “Central Hershey” (the sugar mill) began in January 1922 and was extended to Casablanca, across the bay from Havana, the following October. United Railways, the English company that operated all the other railroads in Havana Province, would not let the American line into town [see map showing the harbor area].
    By 1924 Hershey Cuban had a fleet of 17 electric passenger cars and 7 electric locomotives. In addition to pantographs the vehicles carried trolley poles in order to cross streetcar lines in Matanzas and Regla – especially in the latter town, which used a 2-wire system [Tramway & Railway World, London, 19 May 1921, p. 235]:

  13. Colonial Cuba

    In 1836 Gaspar Betancourt Cisneros established a horse-drawn railway service called Ferrocarril de Camagüey a Nuevitas in Camagüey (Puerto Príncipe).

    Cuba’s railway history began on October 12, 1834 when the regent queen of Spain Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies approved the building of the first line. When the Compania de Caminos de Hierro de La Habana opened the 27.5 km line from Havana to Bejucal on November 19, 1837, it was the first steam railway line in Latin America. At this point Spain did not possess any railroad lines. The 27.5 km long line from Havana was extended by an additional 17 km to Güines on 19 November 1839. By December 1843 the cities San Felipe and Batabanó were added to the rail network and further extensions were added in 1847 (17 km), 1848 (21 km), and 1849 (21 km).

    Havana had its first streetcar (Ferrocarril Urbano de la Habana) when its service commenced on 3 February 1859.

    Pre-Revolutionary Cuba

    Boxcar used on Cuban Central Railway to transport sugar cane. ca 1913
    American-born Canadian railway builder Sir William Van Horne helped expand Cuba’s railway network in the early 20th century. He was an investor in the Cuba Railroad Company (founded 1900).

    In 1924 Ferrocarriles Consolidados de Cuba was created from a dispute between Ferrocarriles Consolidados de Cuba and Ferrocarriles de Cuba.

    Other railway companies formed and merged in the 1920s:
    Ferrocarriles del Norte de Cuba 1916
    Ferrocarril Espirituano Tunas de Zaza
    Ferrocarril Guantánamo y Occidente

    From 1940 to 1959 Cuba’s railway system was modernized by the acquisition of train stock from Budd and Fiat. These trains provided medium speed self-propelled (diesel) four-car trains service on the main line between Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Also after World War II a large network of diesel intercity buses was created with four or five major carriers competing in the east-west corridor between Havana and the provinces to the east. After the revolution with the nationalization of the transportation system, the diversion of resources to defense expenditures and the lack of competition for the service, the train stock slowly deteriorated; this coupled with the inability to obtain replacement parts from the US that had been the main supplier of the equipment for decades destroyed the once efficient system.

    A few sugar factories switched over to diesel electric locomotives to haul freight. By 1958, Cuba had more railway trackage per square mile than any other country.

    Train ferry
    Prior to the revolution there was a train ferry between Miami and Havana.
    The West India Fruit and Steamship Company was one of a number of companies to provide such service.

  14. continue…
    By the start of the 1950s, Cuban railroads had entered into frank crisis. On one hand, stagnation in the sugar industry combined with stiff competition from trucks and buses to provoke a sharp decline in revenue. On the other, a combative labor movement in alliance with a populist state had won significant wage increases that sharply increased labor costs. The railroads needed state intervention to survive, and they got it. Ferrocarriles Unidos, in the west, was nationalized as a joint venture in 1949, while Ferrocarriles Consolidados, the U.S.-dominated eastern monopoly, received heavy state subsidies throughout the 1950s. Both firms sought to cut costs by reducing wages and service, as they invested in new equipment in a vain effort to improve service quality. Wage cuts, however, led to an increasing combativeness among railway workers, who in large numbers actively supported the 26th of July Movement’s efforts to overthrow Batista. About a year after the revolutionary takeover in late 1958, the railways were fully nationalized.
    Despite some minor flaws, Sugar and Railroads is a good book, one that appreciably deepens our understanding of how railroads functioned in the political and economic history of Cuba. Rather than offer sweeping new interpretations about Cuban history, however, the book instead provides critical nuances within the existing historiographical framework. The broad outlines of the railroads’ impact on Cuban development had been traced long before, and they are not substantially challenged here. For example, the critical concept of growth without development is directly borrowed from Coatsworth’s work on Mexico, and is mentioned in relation to Cuba in standard synthetic textbooks published in the 1970s and 80s. Another key conclusion, that railroads, by expanding the radius of operations of the highly productive sugar centrales, permitted the intensification of sugar production in the twentieth century, is also much older than this book. Consider the following lines written by Fernando Ortiz in 1940:

    “Mechanization is the factor that has made possible and necessary the increased size of the centrals. Prior to this the central’s radius of activity was the distance suitable for animal-drawn haulage. Now, with railroads, the limits of extension of a central are measured by the cost of transportation.”



  15. As might be expected from a book originally published in Cuba and whose authors still live and work in the Academy there, Zanetti and Garcia glorify the role of Communists and denigrate that of their opponents in the construction of the labor movement. In part, this reflects a reality of labor organizing in Cuba in the thirties and forties, as the Communists in general were less likely to cut sweetheart deals with management or to employ gangster-like tactics to solidify their authority in union locals. Still, the requirements of toeing the official line lead to curious omissions — such as the absence of any sustained analytical treatment of the populist 1940s. For example, Batista’s name does not even appear in Chapter Seventeen, devoted to the 1940s, even though the text recognizes that his 1940 Constitution “led to the beginning of a new stage of legality, which gave the people’s movement possibilities for promoting democracy in the country.” (pp. 348-369, quotation on p. 361) Likewise, President Grau’s keynote address to the First National Congress of Railroad Workers (held in 1944 and, according to the authors, a critical event in the creation of trade union unity) earns only a brief mention in an endnote. (pp. 365-7, note 60, p. 467)

  16. continue….
    Cuba’s eastern railroads also underwent a process of foreign acquisition and monopolization, though a different one from what had taken place in the west. Eastern Cuba was still relatively undeveloped when the United States occupied Cuba in 1898, and the most important eastern railroads were built following the U.S. takeover. Almost all the new roads were financed by U.S. capital: several of them, including the path-breaking Ferrocarril Central, were directly built by U.S. firms. Monopolization occurred in the 1920s, under the pressure of the severe crisis affecting sugar prices at that time. Despite the heavier direct involvement of U.S. nationals in the east, Cubans still played an important role developing the rail network there. Zanetti and Garcia highlight in particular Jose M. Tarafa, a revolutionary war veteran turned sugar entrepreneur. Tarafa-organized firms built most of the secondary rail circuits in Oriente, generally with strong financial backing in the United States, and Tarafa himself pushed through the 1923 legislation (the “Tarafa law”) that enabled the monopolization of the eastern railroads (see Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen).

  17. Continue…
    This dependency however, at least initially, was not due to direct domination of the railroad sector (or even the economy at large) by outside agents. Although Zanetti and Garcia show that British bank loans financed much of the early railroad construction, they contend these should not be understood as “foreign investment” as such, considering that the lenders “received no control over the railroad or any other rights” (p. 26). The North American engineers, furthermore, who planned and directed the actual construction work, were over the course of time replaced in their managerial positions by Cuban nationals. The initial Cuban railroad network, then, was built at the initiative of Cubans, in large part those who had direct ties to the sugar industry either as producers or traders, and was controlled by Cubans for most of the nineteenth century.

    Direct foreign domination of the railroads came later, towards the final third of the nineteenth century, when the pressure of domestic political conflict and global economic crisis provoked severe financial strain in the early Cuban-controlled railroad companies. By the 1870s and 1880s, British creditors began to exchange their credit to these firms for equity in them, and eventually took control of several of the competing western Cuban railway lines. In 1889, London’s J. Henry Schroder Bank, the principal lender to most of the railroad firms, pushed through a merger of the Cuban rail properties it had accumulated. The company that resulted, Ferrocarriles Unidos de La Habana, came to exercise near monopoly control over the densely populated western core of Cuba until its nationalization by Autentico president Carlos Prio Socarras in 1949.

  18. I know this is long…but, if you really are interested in the history of the Cuban railroad…check this book out.
    Reviewed by Andy Daitsman (Instituto de Estudios Humanisticos, Universidad de Talca)
    Published on H-LatAm (November, 1999)


    Zanetti and Garcia’s Sugar and Railroads comes highly recommended indeed. The Spanish-language original (1987) won the Association of Caribbean Historians’ Elsa Goveia Prize for the best work on Caribbean history published between 1986 and 1989, and this English translation contains a laudatory introduction by the best-known Caribbean historian currently working, Franklin W. Knight.

    Sugar and Railroads is an excellent monograph. Careful and sensitive historians, Zanetti and Garcia provide a complex, richly textured analysis of the Cuban railroad industry from its origins in the early nineteenth century up to the eve of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The study is based primarily on corporate records, but the authors also draw on research in Cuban and Spanish government archives, some oral history (especially of participants in the twentieth century labor movement), and wide reading in the secondary literature on the economic history of railroads.

    They trace in precise detail the interconnections between railroad construction and sugar production, arguing convincingly that the cost savings of rail transport permitted non-subsidized Cuban cane sugar to compete successfully on the world market with subsidized European beet sugar. Identifying a “triad of plantation, railroad, and the port” (e.g., p. 53), they explain how the anarchic laissez faire promoted by the Spanish colonial state led to “an uneven development of the country, by which some regions had, and others lacked completely, … modern means of transportation” (p. 77). By the end of the century, Cuba, despite having opened (in 1837) the seventh railroad line to begin service anywhere in the world and the first in Latin America, still lacked an integrated system of rail transportation, and substantial regions of the country–especially in Oriente–had no railroads whatsoever. Cuban railroads, Zanetti and Garcia tell us on several occasions, led to economic “growth … but not development,” echoing the title of John Coatsworth’s book on Mexican railroads.[1] Efficient low-cost rail transportation, without backward links or multiplier effects, served only to deepen the country’s dependence on mono-crop exporting.

    In all, it is a good book, which clearly belongs on the reading lists of everyone interested in Cuban history, in dependency theory, and in U.S. relations with Latin America. Those with the linguistic skills might prefer to read it in Spanish.

  19. Experiencing Cuba by train…

    Cuba is a fantastic country. Cubans are very friendly and hospitable people and Havana has to be one of the most vibrant cities in the world. It’s a safe place to visit, too, unless of course you fall down one of the many potholes in the street… Cuba’s rail network runs the length of the island, linking the main cities and towns, and it’s an interesting way to get around, especially if you want to travel with Cubans the way Cubans do, and not in a tourist bus. Don’t expect western standards on the trains, take your own toilet paper, and allow for the odd breakdown – think of it as all part of the Cuba experience. In particular, the Tren Francès from Havana to Santiago is a safe, comfortable and interesting way to make the trip from one end of Cuba to the other, much better than taking a cramped long-distance Viazul bus or worse, a flight…

  20. Latest situation January 2016…

    Cuban train services have changed quite a lot over the last few years, reflecting difficulties in keeping locomotives going and finding fuel. However, the problems now seem to be easing, helped by a fleet of brand-new Chinese locomotives. These timetables reflect the last concrete information. Origin and destination times are correct, Camaguey & Matanzas times are correct, but some intermediate times are guesstimated.

    Latest updates: Trains 1, 2, 3 & 4 were cancelled in February 2014 ‘until the summer’ while the carriages were overhauled, the cancellation extended into 2015 and they are no longer expected to reappear. An alternative train, train 11 & 12, is running between Havana & Santiago every 3 days as shown here, and it reportedly now uses the Tren Frances cars previously used on train 1/2.

    Havana Estación Central is closed for a major renovation from June 2015 until summer 2018, and in the meantime most trains are using the nearby La Coubre station instead, although those to Cienfuegos & Pinar del Rio are using Havana’s 19 de Noviembre (Tulipan) station. Just to confuse you, Le Coubre may be referred to in timetables as Central station, so stay alert!

    If you have any more information that might help other travellers, please email me!

  21. Post-revolutionary Cuba

    The destruction of President Fulgencio Batista’s armoured train by the revolutionaries in the Battle of Santa Clara in December 1958 was an important stepping stone in the Cuban revolution.

    After the revolution in 1959, the Ferrocarriles Nacionales de Cuba was created by nationalizing the private and public railway systems. MINAZ continued to operate a separate railway system, mainly to transport sugar products.

    From 1963 to 1966, British Rail helped the national railway obtain newer locomotives which were based on the Brush Type 4 locomotives (later Class 47) at the time being built at Brush Traction in Loughborough, but the final assembly of the Cuban locomotives was performed at Clayton Equipment Company Hatton, Derbyshire. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, it became harder for Cuba to buy new railway equipment because of the United States embargo against Cuba. Some trains were delivered via shipment with ships from third countries like the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. For example, the British locomotive shipped from Hull using Yugoslavian ships.

    Purchase of new trains and parts to Cuba with the Western Bloc, stopped from the late 1960s, was replaced through trade with the Eastern Bloc. This trade link collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union.

    Cuba was able to obtain used trains and new locomotives, from friendly nations not affected by the embargo:
    5 Type RSC18 locomotives were shipped from Canada
    9 electrical motor coaches from Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) (Catalonian Government Railways) of Spain

    Starting in 2000, the Cuban railway network was improved by more second hand equipment. More used vehicles were coming from Canada, Mexico and Europe. In 2002 used light rubbing cars (BR771) were acquired from Germany.

    Much of Cuba’s trains are diesel and only a handful of steam locomotives remain for the sugar industry and the tourism industries.

    After the 1990s, China became the new supplier of railway cars for Cuba. In 2006, 12 new locomotives (Type DF7G-C at 2,500 hp or 1,900 kW) were shipped to Cuba. China Railways also sold some of its retired cars.

    Recent developments

    On September 25, 2007, investors from the Venezuelan Bank for Socio-Economic Development (BANDES) reached an agreement with transportation officials in Cuba to invest US$100 million for infrastructure improvements and repairs to Cuba’s rail network. The work is expected to help increase the average speed of trains on Cuba’s railways from 40 km/h (25 mph) to 100 km/h (62 mph). As part of the agreement, Cuban engineers will also work on similar projects on Venezuela’s rail network.

    In October 2007, the Cuban railways ordered two hundred passenger cars and 550 freight wagons from Iranian manufacturer Wagon Pars.

    In May 2010, the Cuban government announced wide-ranging plans to repair the railway network, buy new rolling stock, and open four centres to train railway workers.


    VOICE OF AMERICA: Cuba Struggles to Feed Itself as Lack of Cash Slows Rise of Urban Farming

    Like many of its Caribbean neighbors, communist-governed Cuba imports more than two-thirds of its food, despite having rich farmland and hundreds of urban farms sprouting up in old parking lots, rooftops, or other small plots of unused land.

    The country spends more than $2 billion a year importing rice, meat, grains and other foods which analysts and local farmers say could be produced at home.

    But local farmers and analysts say Cuba will not achieve self-sufficiency in food in the near future, despite improved trade with the United States after Washington re-established diplomatic relations last year with its former Cold War foe.

    “The government is trying to make more of these organic farms,” urban farmer Antonio Loma told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But it’s a lot of work for very little money.”

    The 10 employees who work with Loma at the Rotondo de Cojima farm, a 10-minute drive from central Havana, earn the equivalent of $25 per month, making it difficult to attract qualified workers or capital to expand production, Loma said.

  23. YOUTUBE: COVERING CUBA, PART I, THE LIBERAL MEDIA COVERAGE OF CUBA – The interviews for my first documentary of the series COVERING CUBA was taped in 1994. They were the testimonies of 26 well established, credible, eloquent, English-speaking Cuban Americans of varying backgrounds, age, gender and race. Among others, COVERING CUBA uncovers the false myths of Castro’s Education and Health Care and graphically shows and explains what was there before and after. The goal was to generate awareness and curiosity in the American people by alerting them to information and a point of view not typically provided by the US liberal media and academia. It was 112 min long.

    I did it alone without sponsorship. I used a VHS camera given as payment for a basement I designed. I bought professional, used equipment for editing. It broke down so many times that the repair shop begged me not to bring it back any more. I was not satisfied with the result, but that’s all I could do in 1994. In December 2015 I decided to re-edit one segment (16 min) featuring, Mauricio Vivero. His testimony, sadly, is as current today as it was in 1994.


    The US liberal media has had the advantage of presenting their perception of what has been going on in Cuba to the American people since Herbert Matthew’s article in The New York Times on February 24, 1957.

    COVERING CUBA was born out of the frustration that Cuban Americans feel, due to the distorted portrayal of Castro and his revolution by the US liberal media and academia for 39 years and its contribution and nurturing of Castro’s myth. It is long overdue that Cuban Americans are given the chance to tell the American people their side of the story from their point of view, as first hand witnesses and real experts. Now, after 57 years of Castro rule, Americans are still misinformed about the ongoing tragedy of Cuba.

    There has been freedom of speech for Castro and his officials in the US liberal media and academia, but not for his victims. Silence has been the rule for decades of violations of human rights. Therefore, the American people ignore the tragedy of Cuba. It is time to learn from history.

    The direct message of COVERING CUBA to the US liberal media and academia is: “TO GAZE IDLY AT A CRIME IS TO COMMIT IT.” Jose Marti, Cuban patriot


    FOUNDATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN CUBA: Is Cuba Building the Next Great “Cyber Wall” with China?

    The Associated Press ran a story on Sunday on Cuba’s announcement of a pilot project to launch broadband Internet service in two Havana neighborhoods. It mentions that ETECSA, the country’s state run telecommunications monopoly, will allow Cubans in Old Havana to “order service through fiber optics connections operated with Chinese telecom operator Huawei.”

    The announcement reads like a genuine step towards finally bringing the full Internet experience to Cuba. But is it really a step in the right direction? Just days after Chairman Wheeler published his upbeat post, ETECSA announced that “it would allow Cubans in Old Havana, the colonial center that is one of the island’s main tourist attractions, to order service through fiber optic connections operated with Chinese telecom operator Huawei” according to the AP.

    Huawei was founded by former People’s Liberation Army Officer Ren Zhengfei. It is one of the biggest Chinese multinational tech firms that supplies nations in Central and South-East Asia with internet and telecom hardware. These countries, including Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Belarus, Ethiopia and Zambia, are known to retain tight political and technological control even though they claim to increase online access. An Economist Special Report on internet in China, described as “a giant cage” states: “China has aligned itself with these countries and dozens of others, including Russia, in a global dispute with Western democracies over how the internet should be governed.”

    Three of the countries doing business with Huawei are also listed in CPJ’s (Committee to Protect Journalists) 10 Most Censored Countries of 2015 annual report. In 2013, reports surfaced that Huawei was banned by Australian, UK, and US governments over security and espionage concerns brought to light by their respective national security agencies.


    BLOOMBERG: How to Get Online in Cuba – Americans will soon be able to hop on a commercial flight to Havana, but staying connected while there is more complicated. – by David Rocks

    Verizon Wireless customers should be able to get online through a roaming agreement with Vodafone. But two friends who visited Cuba recently said they had trouble using it. (Verizon said it hasn’t heard of major complaints about roaming in Cuba and that the service is reliable.) The package will run you $2.99 per minute for phone calls and $2.05 per megabyte of data, enough for about a dozen Instagram photos. Sprint offers roaming in Cuba for $2.49 a minute and $1.99 per megabyte of data. T-Mobile and AT&T don’t offer roaming on the island. Residential broadband is almost unheard of on the island.

    However, the best strategy is to do as the locals do and use the public Wi-Fi. I paid 7 CUC for an hour at the Hotel Nacional, but unless you’re staying there, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s the slowest network I found, presumably due to the large number of people getting online there.

    Most hotels use a shared Wi-Fi system called Nauta, which you can access after getting a code from a scratch card and entering it into your phone, tablet, or computer. It costs anywhere from 2 or 3 CUC for an hour to 10 CUC for five hours. And if you buy a card with more time than you can use in one session, you need to log out and then reenter the 12-digit code and a separate 12-digit password each time you want to go back online; otherwise, your time will keep ticking away. The locals typically write e-mails offline and send them in batches to conserve their Web time for making Skype calls to relatives abroad.


    N.Y. TIMES: Venezuela Ex-Ministers Seek Probe Into $300 Billion in Lost Oil Revenue

    CARACAS — Two former cabinet ministers under late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are seeking an investigation to trace the fate of some $300 billion allegedly embezzled during the past decade through a complex currency control system.

    Hector Navarro, who ran five ministries under Chavez’s rule, will ask a state ethics council to review the operations of the 13-year-old exchange control mechanism that opposition leaders have described as a “corruption machine.”

    Navarro and Jorge Giordani, a former finance minister who was Chavez’s closest economic adviser during his 14-year rule, have made calculations showing the government cannot account for how it spent nearly a third of the $1 trillion that entered its coffers in the past decade.

    “A gang was created that was only interested in getting their hands on financial resources, on (the country’s) oil revenue,” Navarro, who helped found the ruling Socialist Party but was expelled in 2014, said in an interview with Reuters.

    “Thieves have no ideology,” said Navarro, who continues to describe himself as a revolutionary despite his open criticism of the ruling party.


    THE NATION: Zika Is Circling Cuba. What Will Happen When It Lands? Cuba’s public-health campaigns are famously aggressive—but so is the Zika virus. – By Greg Grandin
    Over in Cuba, Zika has yet to make an appearance. It’s circling. There have been cases in Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands. But for the last few years, well before the current Zika outbreak, Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health has been carrying out an aggressive “lucha antivectorial” (anti-vector struggle) against the Aedes aegypti, with campaigns to fumigate and clean up the places where mosquitos breed and to monitor fevers. Cuba’s public-health campaigns are famous, and this one started specifically in response to an earlier regional outbreak of dengue and chikungunya.

    Cuba finds itself trying to avoid the trap: Cuba needs tourists; tourists spread Zika; Zika scares away tourists. Another threat to Cuba’s public-health system is its increasing integration into the global political economy, which is accelerating due to improving relations with Washington. As Osterholm writes, the spread of Zika, and similar mosquito diseases, is made worse by “an explosion of plastic and rubber solid waste [that] now litters virtually all parts of the globe, particularly in the developing world. Non-biodegradable containers, used tires and discarded plastic bags and wrappers—whether in the backyard, a roadside ditch or an abandoned lot—make ideal habitats for these mosquitoes to lay their eggs. All they need is a little rainfall.”

    Cuba has, until now, been an exception. As the rest of the world buried itself under a mountain of crap (I remember the plastic plague visited on Guatemala about 15 years ago, when Coca-Cola and other soda companies began to sell products in disposable bottles as opposed to glass), Cuba, by necessity, pioneered an impressive regime of recycling, as the anthropologist Sarah Hill writes in this great article, “The Never Ending Life of Cuban Things.” That might quickly change, as Cuba, too, gains access to plastic.


  28. After 1959, with the nationalization of the transportation system, the diversion of resources to military expenditures and the lack of competition for the service, the train stock deteriorated, destroying what was one an efficient system.

    The present railway system has only 8,193 km of railway tracks, of which 5,064 correspondent to public transportation, and the rest to agro industrial use (mainly transportation of sugar cane to sugar mills). The actual km of railway tracks has been reduced 45% with respect to 1958. Not even the railway system has escaped the ineptitude of the Castroit regime.

    In 1959, Cuba had one of the most efficient roadway and extensive railway systems in Latin America. But the neglect and lack of up-keep maintenance of the past fifty years and the elimination of nearly 45% of the railway has created the
    requirement for major in-vestment to bring the system up to standard. It was determined to prioritize the infrastructure improvement in two phases, short and long term. The short-term is based on a timeframe of one year, and the long-term was deemed as twenty years. The cost analysis was prepared by means of historical cost from Florida Department of Transportation for roadway construction in Florida. Contingency costs were included in an analysis to account for aggregate, material, plants, and other unforeseen events. As is shown in Table 3, the estimated cost of the short-term investments in the transportation infrastructure system would amount to $2.3 billion, while the long-term investments would cost an estimated $23.25 billion, for a total investment of some $25.55 billion.

  30. What would it take to restore the rail lines ? How many long term jobs would that create ?


    THE GUARDIAN UK: Cuba for sale: ‘Havana is now the big cake – and everyone is trying to get a slice’

    In the early 1990s, Leal persuaded Fidel Castro to set up a state-owned tourism enterprise, Habaguanex: a company charged with developing hotels, restaurants and shops. Crucially, it would plough the profits back into restoring Havana’s derelict buildings and streets, as well as seeding social projects and community facilities. It was a canny model of capitalist tactics deployed for socialist ends, which has seen Leal’s office channel more than half a billion dollars into the old town. The company now presides over a growing empire of 20 hotels, 40 restaurants and 50 bars and cafés, as well as dozens of high-end boutiques.

    But outside the tourist circuit of the four main plazas and the carefully repaved pedestrian routes that wind between them, two-thirds of the old town remains in a perilous state. Castro’s revolution was fundamentally anti-urban, focusing on restructuring the rural economy at the expense of the colonial capital, and the consequences are all too visible. Look beyond the newly polished stage-set facades, and you’ll still find families living several generations to a room in buildings that threaten to collapse around them at any minute.

    Although half of the profits of Habaguanex are ploughed into social initiatives – including health clinics, schools, libraries and old people’s centres – the renovations have come at a price, exaggerating the divisions between the scrubbed-up and the squalid. Many former residents of these grand historic buildings have been rehoused far away from the centre, in the hated suburbs of Alamar and Habana del Este across the bay to the east. More look set to be displaced as the pressure to accommodate foreign visitors only continues to rise.



    ABC NEWS: Bacardi Protests Renewal of Cuba’s Rum Trademark in the US

    In a statement Monday, Bermuda-based Bacardi said it filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Treasury over the trademark’s renewal, which it contends violates “the language and spirit of U.S. law.”

    Bacardi general counsel Eduardo Sanchez called the renewal “unprecedented, sudden and silent.”

    Bacardi wants to know more about a recent U.S. government decision allowing Cuba to sell its Havana Club rum in America when the U.S. trade embargo ends.

    Last month, the U.S. renewed the Havana Club trademark for state-owned Cubaexport. Bacardi and Cubaexport have tangled in court for nearly 20 years over the trademark.

    Bacardi has been selling its own brand of Havana Club rum, distilled in Puerto Rico, here since the 1990s. Cubaexport owns the trademark in the rest of the world.


    CAN AN authoritarian regime convert to democracy by itself? The historical record isn’t encouraging. In the absence of a popular uprising, it is rare for tyrants to voluntarily retire. The military junta of Burma has promised to relinquish some power to an elected government, but it has not yet delivered. China’s party-state shows no inclination to try. Russia’s strongman is reversing what incipient democracy existed.

    This goes to the core of why President Obama’s opening to Cuba seems to be failing to live up to its declared goals. When the end to a half-century of hostility was announced in December 2014, the proclaimed U.S. purpose was to “unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans,” to “engage and empower the Cuban people,” and to “empower the nascent Cuban private sector,” among other things.

    Yet there is scant evidence so far of a sea change in Cuba — perhaps because Mr. Obama continues to offer the Castro regime unilateral concessions requiring nothing in return. Since the United States has placed no human rights conditions on the opening, the Castro regime continues to systematically engage in arbitrary detention of dissidents and others who speak up for democracy. In fact, detentions have spiked in recent months. The state continues to monopolize radio, television and newspapers.

    The administration has defined one of its goals as opening Cuba to the Internet, but the nation still suffers from some of the lowest connectivity rates in the world. The regime established a few dozen Wifi spots but charges people $2 an hour to use them; the average salary is $20 a month. The state retains a chokehold on the economy, including tourism; the benefits of a 50 percent increase in U.S. visitors are being garnered by Raúl Castro’s son-in-law, the industry’s boss. Meanwhile, Cuba’s purchases of U.S. goods have fallen by more than 10 percent.



    CBS NEWS: Cuba announces launch of broadband home internet

    HAVANA — Cuba says it is launching its first broadband home Internet service, a potentially major step forward in bringing the island online.

    State telecommunications company ETECSA announced Sunday night that it would allow Cubans to order home service through fiber optic connections operated with Chinese telecom operator Huawei.

    There are important caveats: ETECSA described the new service as a pilot project and said prices would be announced in the future. Most Cuban workers earn a state salary of about $25 a month. Foreign firms in Cuba pay hundreds of dollars a month for home connections for their executives.

  35. From 1940 to 1958 Cuba’s railway system was modernized by the acquisition of train stock from Budd and Fiat. These trains provided medium speed self-propelled (diesel) 4 car trains service on the main line between Havana and Santiago de Cuba.

    In July 1953, the Cuban government acquired the railway company assets of Ferrocarriles Unidos de la Habana (The United Railways of Havana). A joint venture with the estate was formed operating under the name Ferrocarriles Occidentales de Cuba (Occidental Railways of Cuba), controlling the railway system between Pinar del Río and Santa Clara.
    In 1958, Cuba had 15,164 kilometers of railway; 565 locomotive; 400 passenger cars; 100 boxcars and more than 10,000 freight cars. Of the 15,164 kilometers of railway, 5,862 were of public service and 9,302 serviced mainly the sugar industry. Cuba had more railroads per square mile than any other country in the world.

    Garrido Shops, next to city of Camagüey

    Since 1902 Camagüey, due to its geographical location, has been the railroad center of Cuba. The headquarters of the industry were established there, with the general offices, the Garrido shops and the Antilla Terminal, built on the Nipe Bay.

    USA TODAY: Bucket-list item for African Americans: Experience Cuba – by Laura Ruane,
    Jones noted the Cuban government’s tourism literature doesn’t show how racially diverse its people are. Intermarriage likely means few Cubans are exclusively of one race. Still, by some accounts, black- and mixed-race people comprise two-thirds of the population. And, elements of the country’s African heritage are many and varied. In Cuba, the poverty was evident, Younger added, with people are more divided by class than by race. When going into hotels and clubs with a Havana local, she’d have to tell doorkeepers: “This is my friend. Let him in.”

    But she cautions: “Don’t engage them in talk about politics unless they say it’s all right.”

    And, unless the visitor makes it clear by body language that an impromptu conversation is welcome, Cubans on the street “still get harassed,” by authorities, so they’ll keep away from tourists,” Harris said.


  37. WASHINGTON POST: Venezuela is on the brink of a complete economic collapse – By Matt O’Brien
    The only question now is whether Venezuela’s government or economy will completely collapse first. The key word there is “completely.” Both are well into their death throes. Indeed, Venezuela’s ruling party just lost congressional elections that gave the opposition a veto-proof majority, and it’s hard to see that getting any better for them any time soon — or ever. Incumbents, after all, don’t tend to do too well when, according to the International Monetary Fund, their economy shrinks 10 percent one year, an additional 6 percent the next, and inflation explodes to 720 percent. It’s no wonder, then, that markets expect Venezuela to default on its debt in the very near future. The country is basically bankrupt.

    That’s not an easy thing to do when you have the largest oil reserves in the world, but Venezuela has managed it. How? Well, a combination of bad luck and worse policies. The first step was when Hugo Chávez’s socialist government started spending more money on the poor, with everything fromtwo-cent gasoline to free housing. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that — in fact, it’s a good idea in general — but only as long as you actually, well, have the money to spend. And by 2005 or so, Venezuela didn’t.

    Why not? The answer is that Chávez turned the state-owned oil company from being professionally run to being barely run. People who knew what they were doing were replaced with people who were loyal to the regime, and profits came out but new investment didn’t go in. That last part was particularly bad, because Venezuela’s extra-heavy crude needs to beblended or refined — neither of which is cheap — before it can be sold. So Venezuela just hasn’t been able to churn out as much oil as it used to without upgraded or even maintained infrastructure. Specifically, oil production fell 25 percent between 1999 and 2013.

  38. Pingback: Reports from Cuba: The Cuban railroad died | Babalú Blog

  39. The Compañía de Caminos de Hierro de La Habana built a 27 km line from Havana to Bejucal, which was inaugurated November 19, 1837. This was the first railroad in Latin America and seven in the world. In November 1838, the company built the 45 km section Bejucal-Güines for a total of 72.4 km of railroad tracks.

    In November 1902, the construction of the Central Railway which ran the length of the island was finish, and the new 573 kilometers of tracks connecting Santiago de Cuba to Santa Clara, were connected to the existing 288 kilometers connecting La Habana to Santa Clara. The travel time between La Habana and Santiago took only 24 hours. This brought prosperity from one end of the island to the other.

    For the first time in Cuban history anyone could travel through the entire country. The railroad provided improved communication and reduced transportation costs. This brought prosperity from one end of the island to the other.

    CHALLENGING ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT – Sergio Alfonso, Jr., and Carlos A. Penin

    This report describes the Cuban transportation system as it existed in 1958, investigates and assesses the present transportation system, and puts forth an approach to repair and restore the transportation system. The goal is to assess the present system, identify and categorize the necessary resources to reconstruct the transportation infrastructure in Cuba, given information that was available through the internet and other resources. Ideally this work should be supplemented with field reviews and inspections.

    Since 1959, insufficient capital investments have been made in Cuba’s transportation systems. The lack of investment has only accelerated since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of multibillion dollar annual subsidies Cuba received. This lack of investment and maintenance are reflected in the deteriorated condition of the transportation system.

    According to a November 2007 EFECOM report, nearly 3,000 km of major roadways are in poor or substandard condition. The same report goes on to indicate that planned repairs would not amount to even 400 km per year.

    The present railway system is 8,193 km in length; this is a reduction of 45% from 1958. The present government removed most of all narrow gauge railways. There are 7,952 km of standard gauge track, 150 km of which are electrified and presently used for passenger service. Only 241 km of narrow gauge track are in existence.

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