A Look Back at Pre-Castro Cuba – Part 1 of 4

The first installment in a four part series written by Cuban American engineer, Humberto (Bert) Corzo:

A Look Back at Pre-Castro Cuba – Part 1 of 4

The videos of the infomercial “La Electricidad al Servicio de Cuba” (Electricity at the Service of Cuba), were uploaded on 2010 by Raúl Sánchez and updated on 2011 by Carlos Alberto Fleitas into YouTube.

The infomercial was filmed in 1956 for the Cuban Electric Company, three years before the Castro regime came to power. Carlos Franqui was the director of this infomercial. Franqui, one of Fidel Castro intimates, after joining him in the Sierra Maestra in July 1958, became director of Radio Rebelde. In January 1959 he was appointed editor of the newspaper Revolución.  He defected in 1968 and went into exile in Italy with his family.

The propaganda machine of the regime has been very successful spreading distortions and inaccuracies with respect to Cuba’s pre-revolutionary economic condition, falsifying statistics on the country’s social condition. Most people have a distorted view of Cuba before the Revolution. They believe that the island was a backward country, exploited by the US investors that have a grip on the economy.

This film is evidence of the prosperity of Cuba under a capitalist system. You can see the past wealth of the country, and compare it with today ruins. Cuba was progressing at a far greater rate in 1958 than it is today. On each of the videos I make comments about many of the subjects include on them, providing statistics and establishing comparison before and after the Castroit regime, demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that it has been a failure of great proportion. In these articles you will have the opportunity to see and read about the other side of the story.

Havana: Images of Havana during the 50s showing an aerial view of Havana; Tallapiedra and Regla electric plants; monument of Jose Marti at the Plaza de la República, modern architecture, clean beautiful avenues with heavy traffic. Rancho Boyeros Airport; Maternity Hospital; construction of the Cuenca Sur Aqueduct; University of Havana; Masonic Temple; Miramar Yacht Club; American Embassy; high rise buildings. Marianao Racetrack, boxing and Cerro baseball stadium. Tobacco, coffee, concrete and shoe industries providing data of their progress. Pharmaceutical laboratories; soft drinks manufacturing; meat processing factories; paper mill; tire factory; flour mill plant; pottery and ceramic industries; textile factory; brewery industry. Elegantly dress pedestrians, elegant shops, and new urbanization.

In the 1950’s Cuba was, socially and economically, a relatively advanced country. The construction of buildings, highways, communications and water systems stimulated trade and commerce. Sugar, tobacco, coffee, chemical products, varied industries and factories all were great sources of Cuban wealth.

Construction of the Civic Square and the José Martí monument started in 1953 and were completed in 1958 during the Government of Fulgencio Batista. An elevator allows access the top of the memorial. It rises 109 m allowing a spectacular view of the city.

Palace of Justice and Rancho Boyeros Avenue from the Monument viewpoint

For many years the city of Havana suffered a water shortage. In 1952 an appropriation of $14 million was set up to provide the city with an adequate water system. Under Batista’s government from 1952-58, the Cuenca Sur Aqueduct was build, which in conjunction with the replacement and repair of the of the mains and distribution pipes solved the water supply problems of Great Havana and the majority of the cities in Havana Province.

For the last 50 years, under the Castroite dictatorship, the sanitation and water systems in Cuba has suffered an enormous deterioration, and no significant investments have been made to reverse it. Around 80% of the existing water distribution system have been in place for over 55 years exceeding the limits of its structural integrity and useful life, and is falling apart resulting in enormous waste of water. Consequently the quantity of water is limited and the quality of the drinking water is unsafe.

The 1953 census reported 1.26 million housing units in existence. By 1958 it was estimate at 1.764 million the housing units in existence.  From 1953 to 1958 about 500,000 housing units were built, equivalent to 83,333 units per year, a remarkable feat.

During the first 25 years of the Revolution, from 1959 to 1983, only 296,616 housing units were built, and between 1984 and 2010, another 1,057,031 housing units were built (ONE 2010). This is equivalent to 26,032 units per year, not even enough to replace those destroy and damage by hurricanes and other causes.

According to the Cuban National Housing Institute the house deficit is estimated at 1.6 million units. Of the existent units 75% are over 40 years old, and 60% are in bad or average condition.

Havana Skyline 2008
Havana Skyline 2008

The crumbling buildings look like a war zone. However, these ruins were not created by war, but by deliberate neglect. The decrepit state of the buildings in Havana after five decades of continuous neglect by the Castroit tyranny, keep causing the death of Cubans living in dilapidated, crumbling buildings.

“What we’re seeing is a sign of what is happening to the government, slowly crumbling,” dissident Martha Beatriz Roque.

Cuban tobacco’s prestige around the world was a mark of superior quality. Tobacco leaf production reached 44,000 MT in 1958, with a total of 335 million cigars, and 624 million packs of cigarettes produced. The tobacco industry accounted for 10% of the island exports at a volume of 11,434 million cigarettes and 79 million cigars in 1958 producing $51 million in revenue. According to the Consumer Price Index inflation (CPI) calculator the cigars exported in 1958 would have reached a value of $385 million in 2010.

In 2010 tobacco leaf production reached 20,500 MT, cigars 375.6 million units of which 81.5 were exported, and 13.1 million packs of cigarettes (ONE 2010). Tobacco leaf production fell 53% compare to 1958. Cuban state-run tobacco monopoly Habanos S.A., reported revenues in cigar sales of $369.4 million in 2010.

On 1956 the island exported 20,000 MT of coffee valued at over $20 million. In 1957 it produced 43,600 MT of coffee beans and exported only 11,200 tons due to the guerrilla war in the main coffee growing area.

In 2010 the coffee production was only 5,500 MT. Coffee per capita in 1958 with a population of 6.6 million was 14.5 lb, in 2009 with a population of 11.2 million only 1.0 lb. Make your own conclusions.

The shoe industry produced 15 million pairs of shoes in 1956. The pharmaceutical industry production value reached $70 million in 1957. Soft drinks manufacturing reached 20 million boxes of 24 bottles in 1956. The brewery industry produced 120 million liters at the 5 brewer factories in 1956. There were 3 paper mills in 1956, and a new one added in 1957 that produce paper from sugarcane bagasse.  On 2010 the shoe industry produced only 1.75 million pairs of shoes (ONE 2010).

corzo3Humberto (Bert) Corzo was born in Cuba. In 1962 he graduated from University of Havana with a degree in Civil Engineering. Since coming to the United States in 1969, he established his residence in Los Angeles, California, where in 1972 he obtained the registration as a Professional Engineer. He has over forty five years of experience in the field of Structural Engineering. He is a Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Cuban-American Association of Civil Engineers.