Saturday, April 12, 2008

Of Toasters and Cubans

What is rarer and more precious than a toaster in Cuba?

An iron.

Toasters are the hope of futurity. By 2010, it is said that Cubans will be allowed to purchase toasters for the first time in 50 years.

No one has even speculated when the prohibition against irons will be lifted.

It is likely that most Cubans will have lived and died without ever being afforded the right to buy an iron.

Why is this?

Does Raúl fear that Cubans will use them to bash the heads of those who have prevented them from owning toasters and irons for 50 years (a very practical use for them given the scarcity of bread and clothing apparel on the island).

No, not quite.

Raúl's "Consumer Freedoms" encompass everything that Cubans could not possibly afford to buy without the dollars sent to them by their relatives in Miami. Since milking them is the regime's principal source of revenue, the prices carry mark-ups that would make the robber barons blush.

The idea, of course, is to put higher-end consumer items (such as computers) outside the reach of the great majority of Cubans while maximizing the profits on those actually sold. Hence the number of these items purchased by Cubans will remain low while the profits made on their sale by Castro & Co. remain high.

These consumer items are being made available in a reverse scale of affordability. Few seem to recall that the first "consumer freedom" granted to Cubans by Raúl was the right to own airplanes.

Why would anyone take a raft to sea when he has the right to buy an airplane? Mind you, buy an airplane, not fly it out of the country.

Cuba is a country where people with an average income of $15.00 per month can buy airplanes (if they save for 10 trillion years) but cannot buy an airplane ticket unless authorized by the government [sic].

Oh land of wonders!

But let us return again to the Almighty Toaster. In any other country, it would be the "humble toaster" but Cuba is not like any other country.

Why is the toaster a dream deferred for Cubans? Or the iron an impossible dream?

Why are toaster and iron more subversive than computer or cellphone?

Because computers and cellphones are a pipe dream for 90 percent of Cubans.

Toasters and irons, while not affordable (nothing is "affordable" in Communist Cuba where usury is a state monopoly) are still infinitely more affordable — or will be, presumably, if they are ever sold in Cuba — than airplanes or even DVD players.

More Cubans would be able to buy them hypothetically. They might even manage to do so without assistance from their Miami relatives if they save and do without for 2 or 3 years. Perhaps 5.

But wouldn't that be a good thing for the government [sic]?

If the people can be pacified with toasters and irons (which is all that 95% could even remotely afford), why dangle computers and cellphones before their eyes?

First, because it's not done for their benefit.

It's strictly for exterior consumption, so to speak.

Domestic consumption is another matter.

The reason that the regime doesn't want Cubans to own toasters or irons is its fear that they might be able to manage those purchases even on their miserable salaries.

And why are toasters and irons so "subversive?"

Very simple.

If every Cuban family owned a toaster or an iron, the regime would face the greatest crisis in its history and might even be toppled overnight.


The electrical grid can't handle it.

It's that simple.

All those millions of toasters and irons would plunge the country into darkness.

If they could get electricity restored, it would happen again immediately.

And then again.

It would be better than a general strike. All government [sic] offices, all state industries, all arms of the regime would be paralyzed and the regime itself would be at the mercy of the people.

For 50 years it's been the the regime that regularly shuts off the lights at certain unannounced times to conserve electricity (that is, so the antediluvian electrical grid won't suddenly collapse).

Imagine if that power were in the hands of the people!

If they could immovilize the regime with their toasters and irons!

The Revolution of the Toaster.

The Iron Revolution that would end Cuba's revival of the "unenlightened" 18th century.

That is why the Castro regime will never legalize toasters or irons.

It is quite content to open "museums of technology" all over the island where the Cuban people can gawk at consumers items which they could theoretically buy but won't be able to afford so long as the Castro brothers are in power.


Vana said...

Hey but I can buy a plane!...Manuel you are so right, give them what they cannot afford, instead of the simple things they may afford, the electricity is appaling, while the regime lines it's pockets they have not in 50 years updated the grid. Shameful.

Ms Calabaza said...

How Machiavellian!

I think I'll print out your post and just hand a copy out to every person who comes up to me and says "Hey, I hear things in Cuba are better. . ."

During the Elian affair, every person who found out I was Cuban would ask me "what do you think?" and it would turn into a 30 minute explanation of everything they were not hearing on the national news. Now, I feel like everyone wants to know my opinion about this. Thanks for putting it so succintly!

By the way, forgive my ignorance but what would happen if I wanted to send a package to Cuba with a toaster? Is that feasible?

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

ms. calabaza:

I see where you are going:

Toasters for Freedom.

Alas, our enemies have preempted such a campaign by prohibiting the importation of toasters to Cuba. Not only can't you send a toaster in a package, it will be confiscated at Customs as "illegal contraband" if you or anybody else attempts to introduce one into the island.

Yes, only in Cuba are toasters put in the same category as drugs or explosives.

It is this that should amaze the world. Instead, the world is tantalized by the millenarian
prospect of Cubans owning airplanes and 46-inch flat screen televisions.

Anonymous said...

Are there any toasters left in Cuba from before the Revolution?

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


Just as there are still pre-1959 cars on the road in Cuba, there are also pre-1959 toasters on some Cuban kitchen counters. These are regarded as family heirlooms and are prized almost as much as the cars.

Of course, the regime could confiscate the antique toasters tomorrow if it wanted to. Indeed, two years ago it did confiscate all pre-1959 refrigerators because it deemed them too "wasteful" since the monthly rations alloted to Cubans weren't even enough to fill the butter compartment of one of those ancient behemoths.

Rather than make it a goal to fill them, as they were before 1959, the regime ordered the old refrigerators scrapped and replaced them with Chinese models that are no bigger or cooler than a styrofoam container.

It was thus that the regime deprived Cubans of the principal benefit which they still derived from their old refrigerators -- a cold glass of water.

Anyone that ever lived in Cuba knows just how necessary, indeed, indispensable, that "luxury" is.

Anon1973 said...

˜no, another great post MaT

Ms Calabaza said...


I can see this now:

Toasters for Freedom

~ great bumperstickers!

Ms Calabaza said...

OK, MaT:

We allowed you a break and let you sleep in today but we miss ya, so post something . . .

your fans.

Fantomas said...

Fantomas Tv tonite from 9pm to 11 pm ..broght to you by

Programa serio, nada de relajos

Ms Calabaza said...

Is this the kinder, gentler Fantomas?

How does one see this program? On the internet? Will you be on?

Vana said...

Oh goody, goody, just what I always wanted to see condom head on tv...please

Ms Calabaza said...

rumors are that Fantomas is quite handsome . . . we shall see.

Fantomas said...

no es para tanto , soy gordo , gordito

Fantomas said...

Is this the kinder, gentler Fantomas?

No, this is the fantomas que denuncia a la dictadura

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

ms. calabaza:

It was a beautiful Saturday all over the country and a not unbeautiful Sunday. After a heady week, it seems everybody needed to rest. Myself included. I will be posting something tonight so as not to lose the habit.

Let's by all means watch fantomas on internet tv if we can figure out where from the scant information he has provided. He is quite sane on the air; it's only when he's blogging that he has a psychic meltdown.

Ms Calabaza said...


Please, please don't feel you have to post. Enjoy your day... I was being silly plus just wanted to let you know you are missed. Take care of yourself.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

ms. calabaza:

Please don't suppose I was being anything but frank. It flatters me that you and other readers of this blog enjoy my writings and it is a great encouragement to me. If the other commenters had been active this week-end I would have followed after them. But, as I said, they had plans and that cleared the day for me, too.

If ever I am unable to write for any reason I have a newspaper archive of more than a 1000 old columns about Cuba in English that I could recycle from the days before blogs (or computers). Nothing, or not much, has changed since then in Cuba and most retain their interest and topicality, alas.

Perhaps I will post this week past columns on papal and other episcopal visits to Cuba and the U.S. to prove my point: different faces, same perfidy.

Vana said...

ms calabaza:

But his personality is oh so ugly.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


A good thing that women are not shallow like men in this respect.

John Thomas Roche said...

Excellent post MAT. Clearly these "changes" are simple manipulations to control the people with idle and fruitless dreams. There is no new change only a new method of control.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

john roche:

Once again the regime pacifies the people with promises on which they can hang whatever dreams it has not already crushed. The promises have no value as everybody knows by now. But as they have no other hope they cling to them in the hope that once — only once — their expectations will not be betrayed. But, of course, they will be.

joep said...


I missed commenting on this thread earlier, which is a shame. Your simple yet concise analysis of the true significance of "toasters" relative to the lack of capacity in the Cuban electrical grid is one of those great "untold" or unacknowledged secrets that somehow has been overlooked by just about every commentator on Cuban affairs.

I'll never forget sitting inside the Dutch embassy in Havana, having coffee with the vice consul and discussing the electrical grid - and the Cuban regime's intentional under-investment in it.

Every time I flew to Cuba and was asked to pay a 200% duty on some eletro-domestic item (like a teapot), it was b/c that one little appliance represented an incremental step towards overloading the grid and plunging the country into another interval of misery.

And let me tell you, sitting through a blackout in Cuba in OCTOBER was miserable - let alone what it must be like in July. Inside my wife's house in Cojimar, with no fans operating, no AC, no nothing ... there was just stagnant air, 85F inside the house, 80% humidity, mosquitoes, ugh...