Refurbishing the Obsolete / Fernando Damaso #Cuba

Photo: Peter Deel

The official press is full of articles on the refurbishing of parts and equipment that have been out of service for ten, twenty, thirty years or more, as well as on the use of primitive tools and techniques in agricultural production. These are presented as great achievements. They include reports on equipment installed in a sugar mill in 1898 that is kept running 104 years later, adaptations to a part that allowed it to be used for the first time in thirty years, reconstructing a railroad car from an old unused one, building a bus from the chassis and motor of a discarded truck, adapting cement mixers to build low-cost housing with hurricane-resistant roofs, and other such examples. There are similar reports on agricultural production involving the use of old machetes, mattocks and wooden hoes, and on fields being tilled by ploughs pulled by oxen. All are presented under the pretext that this is being done for ecological reasons.

This laborious work, to which people have dedicated time and effort in order to incorporate these things into the production process in the first instance, and making the land productive using rudimentary methods in the second,deserves respect. It is a shame, however, that their value is, in the first case, ephemeral since sooner or later, given their overuse and physical deterioration, they will again break down and have to be put out of service. In the second case the output will be minimal, and will have resulted in excessive days of work and physical exhaustion. This will, in both cases, lead to the rapid aging of parts, equipment, tools and techniques. In other words, these things will have once again become obsolete.

Relying on the use of outdated means and methods to achieve productive economic development is an effort doomed to failure. The reality is that the problem of aging affects the entire country in terms of technology (to say nothing of demography). For many years the need to provide replacements for nation’s industrial parks was forgotten, letting time pass without making investments to keep factories technologically up-to-date. The result is an unproductive inventory of old ironwork whose value is only as scrap.

The truth is that financial resources are currently unavailable to renovate factories and build new ones, or to modernize agricultural production. This does not, however, justify being deceitful by exalting the alleged economic advantages of refurbishing old parts instead of purchasing new, technologically more advanced equipment, or of tilling the earth with ox-drawn ploughs instead of with modern farm machinery. A country cannot develop economically based on erroneous assumptions, much less with a level of backwardness like our own.

Fernando Damaso

December 29 2012