Informacion economica sobre Cuba

The Empty Platform / Yoani Sanchez

Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sanchez

The small train station bustles with life starting early. Students in

the tightest uniforms pass by, and a newspaper seller announces the

boring Granma every day. There are paper cones of peanuts, workers

selling soft drinks, and several people who have slept all night on

cardboard on the floor. The place — despite its insignificant

architecture — could be a train station in any city in the world. There

is only one thing missing from the scene, something that stands out by

its absence: there isn't a train in sight. The rails are empty and no

locomotive can be made out, not even the sound of a whistle in the

distance. At mid-morning a lone coach limps in, with the initials DB

(Deutsche Bahn) still painted on the side. Passengers board with

reluctance, although the odd child still greets them smiling from the


Cuba had the first railroad in Latin America, inaugurated in a November

like this one 175 years ago. The Havana-Bejucel section was created a

decade before Spain — then a metropolis — began operating trains in its

own territory. But it is not just a question of dates, but that on this

Island the rail lines spread out across the country like a backbone from

which sprouted infinite branches. Life in many small towns began to be

measured between the coming of one car and another, between the arrivals

and departures that appeared on the notice board in each station. The

everyday smell came from the "aroma" that arises from the friction of

the metal of the wheels on that of the rails. But little remains today

of that prominent railroad. One day we said goodbye from the platform to

the last train where we felt comfortable, and from that moment climbed

aboard another that was an uncomfortable, difficult and distressing


Although in the past year repair work has been carried out on the

routes, and the cargo moved along them has more than doubled, the damage

suffered by the Cuban railroad system is of a seriousness that cannot be

quantified in numbers. The main problem is not the lack of punctuality

in the departures, nor the deteriorated cars, nor even the bathrooms so

filthy they can't be called sanitary services. Nor is it the systematic

theft of the passengers' belongings, the mistreatment of the clients by

many of the employees, the constant cancellations of departures, or the

alarming lack of safety reflected in frequent accidents. The greatest

deterioration has occurred in the minds of Cubans, for whom the railroad

has ceased to be the inter-provincial mode of transport par excellence.

Those millions of people who no long measure the rhythm of their lives

by the whistle of the locomotive, who no longer proudly salute from the

window of a car. The hackneyed scene of the goodbye kiss in the station,

the handkerchief waving from the empty platform, the decades long

absence of the principal protagonist: a train about to leave, a long

iron snake ready to travel the backbone of this Island.

20 November 2012

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