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Cubans ‘make do’ with odd inventions

Juan Tamayo in The Miami Herald:

Cubans 'make do' with odd inventions

Cubans have to improvise because of shortages, according to a designer who collects the inventions. a country where Fidel Castro once proposed breeding mini-cows for pasturing in backyards, it should be no surprise that Cubans have become masters of improvisations and inventions in the face of their myriad scarcities.

They punch holes in the bottom of a water bottle and presto, it’s a shower head. If they can’t find AA batteries for the TV remote control, they use a rubber band to attach a C battery, solder in some wires and surf away.

MacGyver himself would have approved of roasting hot dogs and hamburgers on the seat of a metal chair, dropping a raw egg into a car radiator to plug a leak and using a bar of soap to stop a drip from a vehicle’s oil pan.

“The tendency is to think that Cubans are real smart. But the reality is that there have been so many shortages, a super-precarious economic situation,” said Cuban-born Miami designer Ernesto Oroza, who has collected the inventions since the mid-1990s.

Cubans have been “resolviendo” — loosely translated as “making do” — since shortages of all types began hitting the island in the early 1960s, shortly after the U.S. government slapped the first trade sanctions on the Castro government.

The state-controlled media regularly extol the virtues of Cuban ingenuity, like the sugar mill workers who built replacements for U.S.-made parts, or the peasant who built their own windmills and electricity generator and parts for their tractors.

“The revolution injected Cubans with inventiveness to survive the shortages created by the Americans, and now the Cubans use it to survive the deficiencies of the revolution,” Oroza said.

In one of his many and notoriously failed attempts at improvisation, Castro proposed in 1987 breeding cows down to the size of dogs, so that families could keep them in urban yards and resolve a shortage of milk.

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