14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 23 February 2017 — When you look at the photos of the most difficult years of Cuba’s “Special Period,” there are several details that can be observed: how skinny Cubans were, the deterioration of their clothing, and the number of bicycles that filled the streets. Just like the dial phone evokes the first half of the twentieth century, these pedal-powered vehicles remind many Cubans of the most difficult times of their lives.
Despite the benefits to health and the environment, most of those born in the last half century on this island see bicycles as a means of transportation for times of crisis. It is no coincidence that the decline in the use of these vehicles began with the opening to tourism in the 1990s, and with the distribution of licenses for the operation of a private sector.
Thousands of bike-focused parking lots, tire-patchers and bike-repairers saw their clientele gradually diminish until they had to close. In Havana very few of these places are left, though they once sprinkled the landscape of the city. Also disappearing, along with them, is the massive imports of parts from China to be assembled into bikes in Cuba.
However, with the economic difficulties of recent months, led by the drop in oil shipments from Venezuela, some are making haste to reassume the custom of pedaling. Late, missing and overcrowded buses, along with the fallout from state-imposed price controls on private taxis – which has even resulted in drivers going on strike – has led a resurgence of problems in getting from place to place.
Resigned, some are dusting off their bikes and launching themselves into the streets under their own power, on two wheels.