The Fable of Miguelito and His "Haier" Chinese Refrigerator / Miriam Celaya

Old fridges being taken away (Claudia Cadelo)
Old fridges being taken away (Claudia Cadelo)

Miriam Celaya, Sin Evasion (Without Evasion), 15 February 2016 – This Sunday in February, Saint Valentine’s Day, my neighbor Miguelita was overjoyed, although it was not exactly because of it being day of love. He had just finished paying for his Haier refrigerator, made in China, that he had acquired almost a decade earlier by the work and grace of the last sub-revolution orchestrated by the Revolutionary-in-Chief, Castro I shortly before he abandoned the podiums and microphones for good; this particular sub-revolution was known as the “Energy Revolution.”

Admittedly Miguelito, an exceedingly honest type, has not skipped even one of the payments for this “drizzle” refrigerator, as these appliances were popularly baptized due to the continuous streams of water that flood their interiors. It is said that no one, of those who “benefited” from one of these cold artifacts, finished paying the modest bill for the equipment, barely 6,000 Cuban pesos (equivalent to 250 Cuban convertible pesos – CUCs), paid through direct withholding from the monthly salary of those who work for the State. It is also said that there were exceptional cases of those who paid cash for the new equipment, in order to further reduce the cost of the appliance.

As was common in project spushed by Castro I, the scenic unfolding of his delusions amply justified any waste. So, as long as the energy campaign lasted there was a gigantic mobilization of inspectors, police, social workers, delivery trucks, members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, student helpers, carting stuff off to the dump – how many other 21st century Alladin fans – in the replacement of old equipment for new.

The purchase of electrical generators that were placed in different localities, as well as the distribution of rice cookers, electric stoves, and other equipment, to thousands of nuclear families, along with the substitution of old Soviet- or US-made electrical appliances, for new more energy efficient Chinese equipment, unleashed a kind of modernizing frenzy throughout the capital.

Those were the times in which tens of thousands of incandescent bulbs were collected from Cuban homes by contingents of “social workers” – the standard bearers of the occasion, today extinct – and “energy-saving bulbs” were handed out. Meanwhile thousands of Soviet air conditioners were dismantled, even though they were still working, and their owners were given new Chinese equipment.

And as also used to happen in all Castro I’s out-of-control campaigns, speculation broke out and we saw traffickers proliferate – especially among the social workers and inspectors assigned to the sacred mission of the moment – dedicated to the illegal sale of those old Russian and American refrigerators, which were collected from homes. For an additional “under the table” payment, you could even switch out a refrigerator or air conditioner that had been broken for a long time.

No one knows exactly what that last Delirium-of-the-Unnamable cost in hard currency. It is true that the old appliances were large consumers of energy, and at that time with Venezuela’s generosity Chavista oil flooded the Cuban horizon, allowing the government a populist campaign of great magnitude. However, still today the cost of such a mass mobilization is unknown, as is the amount of debt acquired from China, provider of new equipment, or the payments committed to this Asian nation, usurer par excellence.

Nor is it known the fate of tens of thousands of wrecks removed from homes and transported, with few controls, to dubious warehouses by flotillas of state trucks.

Either way, and as had happened with the massive handout of bicycles at the beginning of the ‘90s, Cubans’ enthusiasm for the Haiers was boundless, although most prefer not to remember that.

And given that Miguelito’s meager income, as in so many other Cuban homes, did not enable him to pay the total for the refrigerator in cash, he chose to pay for his Haier in installments. With the natural mischievousness all natives of the island are believed to possess, and taking into account the age of the Great Orator – he assumed that “the process” of payment would last as long as what remained of that person’s life – the refrigerator would be extremely cheap: a period of a little more than eight years seemed so long to him, that Castro I would never end up collecting it, nor would he – Miguelito – end up paying it.

Simply, “there is not enough life span left for this.” And with a knowing wink he urged all the neighbors to choose this type of payment. “Don’t pay cash, don’t be dumb, this isn’t going to last that long!” Although many of the Haier refrigerators haven’t lasted that long either. In fact, Miguelito’s has already been repaired twice.

But this Valentine’s Day Sunday my neighbor just had a bitter surprise: as he was just leafing through the Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) newspaper, where a photo on the front page showed the former Undefeated Commander, today a stooped old man with an perplexed gaze, next to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia who was visiting Havana, the motor of his Haier quit. His Chinese refrigerator stopped working – this time for good, according to a friend of his, a refrigeration technician, who came to look at it – exactly when had he made the last payment, of 60 Cuban pesos monthly over more than eight years, withheld from Miguelito’s salary at the bank.

Now, while lamenting his bad luck, my neighbor has found comfort in the teaching: “I should have known that old trickster wasn’t going to invest in anything that was capable of surviving him.” And he went to his mother’s house to pick up a Westinghouse American refrigerator, which she never wanted to exchange, and which she lent to her son to “resolve” things, until Miguelito could buy his own.

And from Claudia Cadelo on More Refrigerator Stories

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 1: Cold Water and Eternal Debt / Claudia Cadelo

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 2: The arrival of the refrigerator / Claudia Cadelo

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 3: The coming of the refrigerator (II) / Claudia Cadelo

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 4: They finally arrived / Claudia Cadelo

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 5: Rendering of Accounts (and refrigerator gaskets) / Claudia Cadelo