The Housing Construction Plan Is Not Fulfilled in Cuba Due to Lack of Cement and ‘Working Methods’

The plan needs 83 million concrete blocks per year, but in 2023 barely 43 million were fabricated. (Guerrillero)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 28 November 2023 — For some reason, the plan to build with clay has not penetrated the Island. In the middle of the year, the authorities of the sector spent a long time explaining to the population the benefits of this material, in which the Island is rich, when it comes to building a home: “an economic, environmentally friendly and viable way,” they strongly recommended, while talking about the export of marble and cement to capture foreign exchange.

Five months later, the result is disappointing, and Deputy Prime Minister Ramiro Valdés Menéndez couldn’t hide his anger at the Minister of Construction, René Mesa Villafaña, when he noted that he was supposed to erect “floor, wall and ceiling elements” with these materials. “They were being raised. Where are they?” the commander scolded. “There are directions to build the ovens. There are plans delivered to the territories. Do they do it? They don’t do it. Why don’t they do it? Where is the discipline? Where is the control? There are directions and, simply, in the territory they are not executed.”

By the end of October, the plan had been fulfilled by just over half (54%), having built 13,300 dwellings in the country

The reprimand came in the middle of a meeting of Prime Minister Manuel Marrero with the local and state authorities to analyze the poor progress of the housing program that, once again, will fail miserably. By the end of October, the forecast had been fulfilled by just over half (54%), with 13,300 dwellings having been built in the country. The official press, in line with the conclusions of the meeting, admits that the main responsibility was the lack of steel and cement, but did not hesitate to distribute blame by attributing some to “the methods and ways of working.”

Dilaila Díaz Fernández, general director of materials of the Ministry of Construction, explained that to meet the needs of the Housing program, 83 million concrete blocks are needed per year, but in 2022 barely 39 million were reached, less than half, although it was “the best production” in the 12 years that the local production plan had been in operation.

In a country accustomed to worse results, it is no small matter that this year production has increased, producing four million more pieces, but this only covers 52% of what is needed. The result is the shortage of housing and the unfortunate conditions that exist.

The official asked for production to be accelerated and, returning to the local, insisted that it is necessary to “design and build with red clay.” This was followed by the scolding of the leadership of the Communist Party, which alternated with the usual calls for voluntarism.*

“We have to start a different system and promote this as an essential, social, revolutionary movement, to be able to give an answer to the population,” said Marrero, who urged companies, organizations and households to get involved in the world of ceramics.

“We need the population to see that in this very complex, sensitive issue, that affects so many people block by block, there is an additional effort, a different way in which this program has been focused, which is more participatory than ever, that companies are helping, that there is popular participation, that there is a different approach,” he continued, stating that “things cannot be delayed.”

The official, however, emphasized the need for new rules that improve relations between state and private entities and take advantage of Idle capacities

The Deputy Minister of Economy and Planning, Johana Odriozola Guitar, spoke of proposed changes, but the two that she mentioned are not a novelty. On one hand, she spoke of decentralization, a task that was already addressed when the State decided to delegate most of the complex issues to the territories. On the other was the “approval of new economic actors.” The production of construction materials is one of the most frequent activities of the private sector, although well below gastronomy and food production, according to official data from the first quarter of the year.

The official, however, emphasized the need for new rules that improve relations between state and private entities: “taking advantage of idle capacities”; increase the supply and income of state workers; increase production by coordinating with private companies; repair paralyzed production lines; and identify new business opportunities and “price agreements.”

As a novelty, this did advance the creation of a National Institute of Non-State Economic Actors, which will be subordinate to the Council of Ministers, with all that this implies.

The meeting also discussed the future budget and the need to protect the most vulnerable, but the results do not allow us to maintain optimism. “We have to face 2024 in a different way. We are going to have the same challenges, the intensified blockade, the same currency limitations, fuel problems. Therefore, we do not have the right to make a plan that is more of the same,” Marrero warned.

The prime minister spoke of a new year of “much justice,” but before which “more planning” will have to be done, due to the difficulties. “We have to play the role that corresponds to us, transform the Government’s control for food production, taking into account that 80% is in non-state productive people and forms, as well as strengthening the local development strategy, based on the real potential of the municipalities to meet the demands of the population,” he said. Again, he didn’t explain how.

We have to face 2024 in a different way. We are going to have the same challenges, the intensified blockade, the same currency limitations, fuel problems

After the echo of Ramiro Valdés’ anger, the prime minister ended the meeting with best wishes and words, talking about the benefits of decentralization, how to better exploit the “potentialities both spiritually and materially, and put together a great movement in tribute to the triumph of the Revolution and the people who work so hard and have had to face so much.”

According to the latest balance sheet of the Ministry of Construction, Cuba needs to build about 20% more houses to end its chronic housing deficit, which exceeds 800,000 homes. Since 2021, barely around 50,000 have been built. In addition, in mid-July the housing program built with state subsidies had only 13% execution, the eradication of dirt floors 9%; and of the 9,000 tenements in the country, barely 154 had been eliminated.

*Translator’s note: Voluntarism means individual initiative, something contrary to Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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