The MacGyver’s of Cuba
Admittedly, we often feel our power and prestige as Americans lends an elevated position when it comes to teaching, learning, and knowing any information we consider relevant. So, it may seem odd, indeed a bit counterintuitive, to learn lessons from a group of people that we once saw as “the enemy”, especially when we feel as though these people chose the wrong side and paid the price for being communists. However, we should never shun good information no matter the source. Cuba is a country isolated and economically depressed for decades. It is the best source, hands down, for relevant and realistic prepping data. In fact, it’s a great example that human beings can survive and thrive even under duress for extended periods of time. It also has proven people will not necessarily resort to looting, raping, and murdering their way through a SHTF situation; that is, at least if they can develop a good sense of self and community before hand. Indeed, the fact Cubans have been deprived of a great deal of the items we take for granted everyday has spurred them to a DIY renaissance. They’ve made everything from house fans to T.V. antennas to key cutting machines and much more using nothing but what they had on hand.
First, a little history lesson for those uninformed, Cuba has been under a United States led trade embargo since 1958, which is the longest continuous embargo in history. Over the years the embargo has expanded, rather than eased, which has led to other third-party nations limiting their trade with Cuba as well. While these other sovereign nations are not technically a part of the embargo on paper many nations feel they might be penalized for ongoing trade relations with Cuba. As a result, they have effectively joined the embargo. Such actions have severely limited the amount of industrial and commercial goods coming into the country and over the years has lead to Cuba being left behind technologically in many ways. In addition to the lack of goods coming into Cuba they also lost many of their foreign engineers and college educated professionals in the 60’s as the Batista regime fell and the Cuba Revolution nationalized Cuba’s oil producing facilities. This left the young revolution at a cross roads and Fidel ordered that the Cuban people should seek to learn everything they could about machines to be self-sufficient.
“The National Association of Innovators and Rationalists” was born as a result of this national push to maintain, repair, and build the machines needed in everyday life. Instead of backing down and compromising the spirit of the revolution, they chose to do for themselves. In 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba found itself in a severe economic crisis; the Soviet Union having been their biggest economic supporter until their collapse. Rather than follow the Soviets into collapse Cuba continued to stand; every problem that arose was met with a spirit of creative and innovative solutions. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Cuban government (under the department of the army) created and issued a manual called “The Book For The Family.” While the rather innocuous title may lead you to believe this book is of little value to you as a prepper, it is an fantastic compilation of international publications (e.g. popular mechanics) that lay out fixes for common household appliances, home remedies, botanical identification and use, survival, and personal protection.
The national call for the people to support themselves, to fix their own problems, to do what needed to be done instead of waiting for a solution worked, by golly! When people didn’t expect the government to step in and fix it for them, guess what? Problems seemed to solve themselves. In every walk of life from transportation, tools, entertainment, the people who needed it created it. The people of Cuba created their own economy of sorts; they shared solutions to problems that everyone faced. All around the island aluminum tray antennas rise from nearly every house, this common item repurposed to fill a need readily serves as just one example of this industrious spirit. In an effort to see if the manual was indeed helping the people as intended, they asked the people to send in their ideas, to submit their own fixes to the problems they faced everyday. This led to the creation of a second book, “With Our Own Efforts,” compiled completely from the feedback of the people themselves.
The second book has everything including a recipe for beef steak made from grapefruit rinds where they soak the rind to remove the bitterness, adding garlic and spices to get the desired flavor, and finishing the dish by frying it (the grapefruit rinds) giving the impression and flavor of beef. It also included several new household items that could be made from washing machines, which were everywhere on the island. The machines most common, Soviet Aurika type, on the island had a combined washer and dryer, which often had the dryer side fail for one reason or another. Nonplussed, they would cut the machine in half to save space and repurpose the motor and wires from the dryer to create all manner of new appliances from fans to key cutters to grinding wheels. The point isn't so much what they made after taking the machine apart; the point is they looked at everything in their world beyond the limits of what it was. Forced by circumstances beyond their control, they did better than “make do,” they innovated their way to a better life. They saw what the components in the machine could be if they were seen from a perspective of needs versus design. Too often in our daily lives we find the objects we use everyday often fail to meet our needs while exceeding the needs they do fulfill. Rather than seek to reform the objects in our lives we reform our lives to the objects themselves, in a survival situation it is imperative that we stop this trend
We ask ourselves hypothetical questions about the end of the world as we know it often looking past the real-world equivalents of these situations. In the same way our mindset is geared toward changing our lives around our technology, we plan our lives around imperfect calculations of what may be. We must encourage learning in ourselves; encourage audacity rather than complacency in the face of our ever-changing world. These objects attempt to subject us to the authority of their design, we must be disobedient, we will surpass this authority with knowledge and curiosity. Take the lessons hard won by the people of Cuba to heart, see what they have done and continue to do everyday and learn. Spend your time planning as if you were a Cuban citizen in 1990, the year before their major economic collapse, getting the skills under your belt to solve your own problems. Gather a community of people around yourself that have the same spirit of self-reliance that can help you all thrive in adversity. Stay alert, stay alive.