Cuba Faces Shortage of Repair People
March 28, 2013
By Aurelio Pedroso (Progreso Weekly)
HAVANA TIMES – Although I have no firm proof, Cuba might be one of the
few countries where finding the good (or terrible) services of a trades
person requires a great deal of patience, pleading, luck, and even that
old supplication "do me the favor, for your mother's sake" – even though
you may live to regret it, in many cases.
We've been through worse times, let's be fair. Those days in the late
1960s when everything was "consolidated" (barbers, electricians, watch
repairers, even spiritual advisors) and when finding a carpenter, a
mechanic or a plumber to come to your home was akin to a covert
intelligence operation, super-covert even.
The tools arrived from one direction, the repairman from another because
no one should find out about it, least of all the CDR [Translator's
Note: Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, neighborhood watch
The government's blessing upon self-employed workers has managed to
allay those nightmares. But something's still wrong. Either those people
are very much in demand or they lack respect for their clients or are
not serious or punctual when responding. Heaven protect you if it's a
combination of two or more flaws.
Be careful, very careful with those people the Spanish call "manitas"
[handy people]. They come to you as jack-of-all-trades who know
everything. They criticize the work previously done in your house, wreck
everything around you and disappear without a trace in the hubbub of the
street or the darkness of the night. Real household vandals.
Out of this pleiad of good and bad day laborers, I ran across an elderly
repairman of gas kitchen appliances who lived and had a shop in El
Vedado. This senior citizen's excellent skills and initiative made him
extremely desirable. People could recommend him without later hearing
that he was a phony.Today, his grandchildren run the business and every
time they finish a job they clean their tools the way their grandfather
Another dependable worker is a repairman of household appliances at 26th
and 15th streets, also in El Vedado. Sitting on a school desk next to a
small table, he instantly fixes any defective appliance – and for a
reasonable price, too.
But these examples are almost exceptions. The other itinerant handy
people need to be avoided at all costs, the way bullfighters dodge the
bull. For the moment, they live at the top of an inverted pyramid, where
they earn more than a surgeon, who faces a lot more challenges when he
walks into the operating room.
There are various ways to interpret this situation. It would seem that
the drowsiness and lack of gumption learned from the bureaucracy,
inefficiency and lack of drive run through the veins of some of these
Time, that battered yet valuable concept, will hopefully put them in
their rightful place. Some years ago, a foreign friend of mine kept
asking me what would happen in Cuba when time played its real role. We
can already see what is happening.
Something peculiar happens with mattresses. Day and night we hear the
calls of street repairmen offering to fix your mattress. The most
ramshackle mattress, with the most stories to tell, mattresses that
anywhere else would be tossed in a dump, will be made new for about 30
dollars, they claim.
Not bad, because a new mattress will cost you more than 200 dollars in a
furniture store, and, as my grandmother used to say: "How does the
cockroach sit down?" [T.N.: A Cuban expression meaning an unattainable
wish. Cockroaches can't sit down.]
One way to measure the passing of time is to realize that freelance
repairmen no longer shout "I stretch bed frames! Babies' cribs, adults'
beds, I stretch them all!" a cry that once was made into a popular song.
The classical bed frame has disappeared, replaced by planks of wood
that, paradoxically, are good for your spinal column.
These mattress repair people are all over Havana. And it appears that
the demand equals the supply. I would like to summon a gathering of
furniture experts and listen to their conclusions. I bet they'd agree
that the new mattresses are extremely expensive and of the worst quality.
I wouldn't be surprised if one of those experts said that we lie down
and sleep excessively (two different activities) to the detriment of our
health and the humble mattress' structure.
Summing up, we have much to look forward to in terms of private
initiative. For better or for worse. For better, hopefully.