Repair Culture: Reparación “the never-ending life of Cuban things …”

From the middle of the 20th century the concept of repair and re-use has steadily declined in Western Culture to be replaced by a culture of consumption and ‘hermetic design’ that makes repair difficult or uneconomic. By contrast, in Cuba a repair culture continues to flourish.

Following the 1959 revolution and the 1961 US embargo, Cuban society has had to survive with limited imported goods, particularly from ‘Western’ nations. They became heavily dependent on support from the USSR (1960s-1990s). But following the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba entered a ‘Special Period”, where they became increasingly reliant on repair and refurbishment to keep ‘technology’ and the economy going. To address the impact of embargos and the collapse of Soviet support, the Cuban government produced books to help citizens carry out their own repairs. This culture of repair is evident everywhere, in the ‘classic’ cars, repurposed bicycles, and in the many street-side repair businesses and commercial repair shops.

Cubans continue to keep things working, creating ‘the never-ending life of Cuban things’. As well as the archetypal classic car repairs, Cubans can be found repairing bikes, domestic electrical goods and electronic items, from 1970s radios and TVs to modern computers, cameras and smart phones. They also repair and refurbish things that many would simply throw away like single use cigarette lighters (which are modified to make them refillable) and umbrellas. To facilitate repairs, they will salvage parts from unrepairable items for use in future repairs; something characteristic in many repair cultures.

Stories about repair are everywhere in Cuba.