14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 7 August 2019 — The Ministry of Transportation (Mitrans) has once again announced a traffic program for the maintenance and supervision of roads. Far from being a novelty, this would be the most recent of the many road improvement plans that — like housing construction — have cyclically been announced in different periods after 1959 and that, for unknown reasons, after a spectacular investment program, whose real cost is never revealed, and a flood of press reports covering the development of the works in situ, have not been fulfilled in practice. They have been truncated or simply, silently, disappeared without further explanation.
Years of socialist neglect have caused the deterioration and even the destruction of numerous roads under the onslaught of natural phenomena, added to the inefficiency of the country’s sociopolitical system. The Island’s highways and roads system is experiencing its worst crisis since its construction, and its current deterioration imposes greater urgency and more resources in the midst of a new economic crisis.
The Island’s highways and road system is experiencing its worst crisis since its construction, and the current deterioration imposes greater urgency and more resources in the midst of a new economic crisis.
Now it’s the hand-picked president’s turn, whose “continuity” strategy does not leave room for optimism. But in Cuba, promoting the development of any subject is not exactly what it’s about, rather it’s about “having a development plan”. The experience of the last 60 years shows that fulfilling plans is not a priority, only the plan is an end in itself.
Therefore, though the aforementioned Roadways Program has not excelled — it does not even appear on the official website of the Mitrans, the entity in charge of its execution, nor will deadlines set for its different stages of development be known until the end of 2030 — at least in the government press, the work moves at full speed.
The data provided by sources of the Ministry of Transportation to the newspaper Granma indicate that the road network in Cuba covers a total of 71,138.5 km (44,204 miles), of which 17,168 km (10,668 miles) are classified as urban roads and about 24,000 km (14,913 miles) correspond to rural roads, with most of them considered “of specific interest” because they are owned by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Azcuba (sugarcane production) group. The same source adds that “in a general way” 24% of these routes are evaluated as “in good condition”, 37% “are in normal condition” and 39% “in poor condition”.
The figures quoted do not clearly reflect the importance rankings of the roads included in this phantom plan; however, the director of the National Road Center did report that for the period 2019-2030 ” priority investments associated with the development of the northern coastal cays areas plus the Special Development Zone of Mariel, as well as works of tourist interest and others in the economic and social field will be maintained.” He also assured that, in addition, “emphasis is placed on the improvement of road signs and activities related to the sealing of cracks, paving, milling and repair of bridges and sewers, and continue mainly on the National Highway and the Central Highway.
It is worth clarifying at this point that the so-called National Highway is a misnomer, since it does not even meet the required basic requirements
It is worth clarifying at this point that the so-called National Highway is a misnomer, since it does not even meet basic requirements, such as the absence of level intersections or crossings, with layouts allowing access to adjacent buildings directly from the road. It also does not meet the required deceleration lanes at entrances and exits, with nonexistent or diffuse and extremely narrow lateral shoulders at best, with scarce and deficient signaling system which is not consistent with high-speed traffic highways. The route lacks fences or railings that guarantee security and prevent the access of pedestrians or cattle (or other animals), among other infinite deficiencies related to the poor quality of the construction and not a few engineering errors of the original project.
The brand new “highway” does not even classify as a motorway, nor could it be compared to the marvel of engineering that was once the Central Highway, built between 1927 and 1931 under the Government of Gerardo Machado, and still considered Cuba’s most important road, extending for 708 miles through 14 of Cuba’s current provinces.
Nor does the ill-named freeway have a “national” rank since, although the project — originally devised by the now deceased Fidel Castro in his useless effort to emulate and overcome all the advances of the Republican Period — intended to build a modern high-speed road which would cross the island lengthwise in its entirety; the truth is that it only covers a total of just 597 km (371 miles) from the capital to the west, to the city of Pinar del Río, and to the east to the city of Sancti Spiritus, in the Central region of Cuba. The demise of the Soviet Union and with it the subsidies received by the Castro Regime marked the fate of a road that, to date, remains truncated.
But, returning to the issue of current maintenance and repair works whose execution is supervised by the same non-elected president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, it goes without saying that, this time, the information about the amount of the budget that will be dedicated to such commendable purpose was conspicuous by its absence. Commendable and urgent, if it were true, especially since each year the high accident rates take the lives of dozens of people and causes temporary or permanent injuries to thousand others.
Not to mention the corruption of bribing the officials responsible for ensuring the safety of all, both in the process of obtaining driver’s licenses and in the evasion of technical controls
Last June, the official radio station Radio Rebelde reported that between January and May 2019, 4,134 traffic accidents had taken place in Cuba, with a balance of 269 deaths and 3,063 injuries, “a discrete decrease” compared to the same period over last year’s numbers. However, the official version continues to consider Road Safety Code violations by vehicle drivers as the main cause of the high accident rate, which is a half-truth, because it masks the responsibility of the Government for the lousy state of roads, the precarious and defective signaling system, plus the poor technical condition of state-owned vehicles, including the ones that operate in passenger transport.
All this, not to mention the corruption through bribes to the officials responsible for ensuring the safety of all, which is present both in the process of obtaining licenses and in the evasion of technical controls — carried out by state inspectors — or fines that the traffic police should impose on offenders.
At the moment, Cuba’s current scenario is more doubtful than certain, and despite everything, the repair of roads — although also necessary — is perhaps the least of the priorities of a population where such essential issues as finding food to place on the table and housing are still pending subjects against useless plans and empty slogans.
Translated by Norma Whiting
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