14ymedio, Madrid, 7 October 2022 – The first edition of the International Transport and Logistics Fair held in Cuba closed this Thursday with great joy but without much concreteness. The minister of the sector, Eduardo Rodríguez Dávila, said that almost 40 contracts and more than 100 business agreements and “intentions” for land, sea and air had been signed.
However, there is information about the one signed with a Chinese company to improve the railway, a project that was already attempted with Russia but was paralyzed by Moscow in the face of repeated non-compliance by the Cuban side.
The Union of Railways of Cuba (UFC) and Beijing Fanglian Technology signed “two letters of intent for the gradual recovery of part of the railway infrastructure,” according to the official press last Tuesday.
Among the points of the pact are the restoration of the railway and locomotive workshops that are in the Mariel Special Development Zone, and the import of parts and pieces of the equipment.
Luis Roberto Roses Hernández, general director of the UFC, said this would make it possible to acquire “the necessary parts for the maintenance of high-scale Chinese locomotives and the gradual improvement of their reliability, which guarantee a better quality service in cargo and passenger transportation.”
Beyond that agreement, which reflects an intention for now, Rodríguez Dávila believed that the event served to “renew old contacts and make new ones” in order to recover the sustainable development of transport in Cuba.
There was also time to hold the United States accountable for the poor quality of service. Carlos Alberto González González, deputy director of the Directorate of Passenger Transport, said that “the supply deficit” is due to “the insufficient technical availability of the means and the diesel fuel due to the pressures exerted from Washington.” In addition, an official note from the ministry highlights that “the complex context” — which also affects the burden — is due to the “blockade of the United States Government.”
In October 2019, Cuba experienced the prequel to the episode that just happened with China. At that time, the Russian state railway company RZD signed an agreement with the Cuban Railway Union to modernize the entire Cuban railway structure. Moscow was in charge of the funding, with a value of 2,314 million dollars destined for the modernization of the infrastructure in this case (1,000 kilometers of road, materials, technology and training), as well as a traffic control center.
At the end of 2020, the director of RZD, Sergey Pavlov, temporarily concluded the project. “Unfortunately, we have had to suspend our project of comprehensive modernization of the Cuban railway infrastructure due to economic difficulties and quarantine restrictions on the Island, but we hope to resume work after the situation has stabilized,” he said.
During that period, Russia sent locomotives to the Island, but sources in the railway sector told 14ymedio that the machines were not suitable for the reality of the country. “They are high consumers of fuel. Compared to other locomotives on the market, they demand a large amount of fuel for their operation, and it’s now known that this is a problem here, because the supply we have is not always stable,” they said.
The shutdown of the Russian railroad continues to this day. In 2020, the executive secretary of the Russian-Cuban Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, Oleg Kucheriáviy, warned of the massive cancellation of investments in Cuba due to Havana’s noncompliance.
The official told the Russian press that of the 60 joint projects, only ten were being carried out, and he said at a meeting of the Senate Committee on International Affairs that the last session of the intergovernmental commission, which was to be held on the Island, was canceled due to the “silence” and “stalling” of the Cuban authorities.
In addition, Yuri I. Borisov, deputy prime minister of Russia and in charge of economic relations with Cuba since 2018, said in reference to the Cuban side: “They are complicated businessmen, I’m not going to hide it, the mentality of the past is constantly weighing on them. During the negotiations, in the positions they take, it always appears that we are an outpost of the world revolution and they simply have to help us,” he said.
With the pandemic, which was especially hard for the Island in 2021, none of this has improved, and public transport is still anchored in the past without managing more than the shipment of some equipment that is clearly insufficient, such as electric buses from Japan or Belgian buses.
The only announcement with support from the authorities is the creation of the title of Transport Engineer, a new career for professionals trained in the administration of human and material resources in that sector.
“The new transport engineer will participate in the technology transfer processes, act with economic awareness taking into account the Cuban reality and master legal elements related to his professional activity,” said Juan Cogollos, president of the national career commission and full professor at the University of Cienfuegos, where the specialty will be taught.
The new studies will last four years and have subjects such as transport engineering, electricity and automation, statistics and operational research, economics and process management, and transport technology and operation.
The authorities announced that graduates will be able to work in the Ministry of Transport and its business system, the private sector and other agencies linked to the specialty at a time when young people seem more encouraged to leave the Island due to the lack of opportunities or the miserable salaries they receive after having studied for years.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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