14ymedio, Havana, 4 February 2023 — With the credit of 111 million dollars, offered by Russia to Cuba in 2017, the integral repair of Antillana de Acero has been achieved. Now, the experts say that it remains to be seen how, in a country that lives to the rhythm of blackouts, the enormous amount of electrical energy necessary to run the ovens, cranes and other equipment will be obtained.
Interviewed by the official State newspaper Granma, the CEO of Antillana, Reinier Guillén Otero, confirmed that the situation of his company was “critical.” They had been negotiating with Russia for years over the financing of the repair, which was approved five years ago. The result, rather than restoring, was to replace, in practice, the entire structure of the factory.
The Russian credit was distributed to 54 projects, calculated Guillén, including steelmaking, which needed the “most expensive and dangerous” process. The roof of the steel mill, with a maximum height of 148 feet and a total extension of 88,583 feet, could be only 40% repaired.
The renovation of the streets, the foundations of the plant and other common spaces needed 1,099,868 gallons of “high-strength” concrete. The cranes of the installation, essential for the transfer of the scrap, and the oven to melt the steel were also repaired.
The work should be completed by August of this year, although managers admit that important steps are still missing in the assembly of new cranes, the installation of some equipment and the general works of the factory. However, Granma’s report avoids calculating how Antillana de Acero will deal with the instability of the National Electricity System.
Aristides, an electrical engineer, worked for 22 years in the factory and received with concern the news that the colossus is producing again. “It is a huge consumer of electricity because it has electric arc furnaces that consume a lot of energy. In addition, the traveling cranes necessary to move the loads are 100% electric. In other words, it is to be expected that this entry into operation will strain the energy situation,” he tells 14ymedio.
The retired engineer recalls the structure of the plant, which he considers “a small town within the city,” with its large rolling workshop and another of machining, a continuous emptying installation, which converts the liquid metal into the so-called billets that once achieved are passed through giant rollers that compress them until they are converted into steel bars.”
Arístides, who knows the energy cost involved in the start-up of Antillana de Acero, believes that “if they are going to reactivate production it is because they already have a safe foreign contract with a country or company that is going to buy the steel.” From the million-dollar investment made by Russia, it could be speculated that part of the product will end up in the Eurasian country.
Inquiring about the military use of Cuban steel, Aristides believes that “it does not have the quality to be used in armaments because it is a carbon steel” although he recalls that at “at one time grenades were made for the training of the MTT (Militia of Territorial Troops), but it was very brief. There was tremendous paranoia at first but in the end — like everything in this country — the workers ended up even using the grenades as paperweights in the offices.”
“There has never been enough production to cover national demand, and part of those steel bars is exported. They have always prioritized export, which is what brings in hard currency. Some of the auxiliary workshops have the capacity to provide services to Cubans but they have never been given authorization for that,” says Aristides. “It could solve many problems and also pay someone money for that work, but it has never interested them.”
The engineer refers to the fact that the neighbors of the factory could be paid for blacksmithing, turning and parts assembly. “Like all Cuban industry, even though they say it’s efficient, it is actually insufficient, because it has focused only on steel sections that are rolled or pressed into shapes, and although in the past the steel mill made other products, such as balls designed to break concrete, that line has been closed for a long time.”
Steel sections and bars and rods are the skeleton of any construction and elements that are currently scarce on the Island, where housing deterioration and housing deficits have been growing significantly in recent years. The official sale of these construction elements has been reduced to those affected by the most recent hurricanes, and on the informal market, prices are skyrocketing.
“You find steel that you can see has already been used in formwork or taken from abandoned buildings, and that’s what you have to work with,” Samuel, a young man of 31, who together with his family is “pulling the new plate” for the roof on his home, in the Havana municipality of Cerro, explains to this newspaper. “Now we are stopped by lack of steel bars and rods, and we have been doing this for two years because what you find is very expensive.”
When Samuel has tried to haggle over the price of steel with informal merchants, the invariable response is that “it’s because Antillea is still disrupted.” Now that the colossus of El Cotorro will produce again, the young man has some hopes that “the rods and bars will start to be seen” and his home will have the roof he lost again due to leaks and deterioration.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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