China Comes to the Rescue of Cuban Military Shoe Company

The Orthopedic Laboratory in Camaguey produced only 164 of the more than 2,000 pairs of shoes it was supposed to deliver in 2022.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 March 2023 — The Cuban footwear industry stands to benefit from an injection of Chinese capital. The Asian giant has been investing increasingly more in the island’s industry and in the Combell footwear company. The business, located in Santiago de Cuba, will be one of the first to reap the benefits of this investment according to the company’s director, Zoe Cabello.

After Miguel Díaz-Canel’s visit to Beijing in November, Cuba entered into what Xi Jinping called a “community with a shared destiny.” Both presidents signed agreements in which the Chinese agreed to provide funding into areas as dissimilar as biotechnology, economics, cybersecurity and espionage. Additionally, Xi provided Díaz-Canel with an emergency donation of 100 million dollars, which the Cuban government received in January.

Since then, the already important Chinese presence in key sectors of the Cuban economy — everything from locomotive repair to information sharing at the highest level — has only increased.

Chinese investment, along with recently signed Cuban military contracts for “new services,  is the company’s the last hope for staying afloat.

Combell operates three plants — one each in Palma Soriano, Contramaestre and Santiago de Cuba — at which it has agreed to repair Colossus-brand boots* used by the Cuban military. It has also committed to manufacturing 5,000 pairs of women’s shoes, essential components of military uniforms, notes Cabello.

However, they are in need of threads, jigs, fabrics and needles, which they also hope China will provide. This would allow them to overcome what Cabello describes as “the greatest difficulty in light industry today”: the lack of resources. Similarly, they hope a leather producer and shoe-sole maker in Villa Clara, as well as a private businesswoman who manufactures saddle sheets in Camagüey, can provide the factory with raw materials.

In addition to profits from retail sales, the goal, says Cabello, is to earn 50 million pesos from the repair and manufacture of footwear.

The shortage of materials also upended the 2022 production schedule of the Provincial Technical Orthopedics Laboratory in Camagüey, which met only 6.7% of its target. Officials laid the blame for the company’s financial difficulties squarely on the U.S. embargo.

Its shoe manufacturing business has been the most affected, explained Jorge Guerra Ruiz, the operation’s director. It was able to deliver only 164 of the 2,425 pairs of shoes it had planned to produce. It also halted production of corsets and prostheses due to a shortage of raw materials such as resin and powdered gypsum.

Guerra Ruiz said the company made prostheses from reused parts of older models and came up with other innovations thanks to the inventiveness of the National Association of Innovators and Rationalizers, and the Youth Technical Brigades.

The official press pointed to Francisco de Jesus Rodriguez, who suffers from coxarthrosis of the hip due to the shortening of one leg. He needs special footwear but has been unable to obtain it because the lab lacked the necessary materials to customize his shoes.

The money sent by China in early November, which coincided with Diaz-Canel’s “beggar’s tour” to Beijing, guaranteed school uniforms would be delivered this academic year. Facing a cash shortfall, the president of the Light Industry Business Group, Mirla Díaz Fonseca, pointed out that, without Chinese investment, it would have been impossible to distribute 1,274,000 garments to students. However, 2,153,310 uniforms are still needed throughout the island.

At the beginning of the year, Cuba promised China quarterly accounting statements to systematically monitor implementation of the agreements Díaz-Canel signed in November.

*Translator’s note: A line of footwear produced by Bata Industrials, a manufacturer of safety footwear based in the Netherlands.


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