Hacker Island: Preserving Cuba’s Classic Cars

The spirit of hacking takes many forms. We cobble things together to make our lives easier, to prove that a drawing-board theory will work, or just to have fun and explore. For the people of Cuba, hacking is a necessity. This is especially true when it comes to getting around. Transportation has been a big problem for decades, especially in the major cities. But the resourcefulness of Cuba’s citizens has fueled a revolution of creativity that has sparked imaginations and kept people moving.

It is believed that Cuba has the world’s largest collection of classic American cars. There are approximately 60,000 of them on the road nationwide in various states of repair. Some are kept in pristine condition by card-carrying automobile club members who baby them and keep them as close to stock as possible. But most of these cars see daily use as cheap public taxis. They are not for-hire cabs that can be easily hailed from the sidewalk, though. They are designed to maximize utility and carry as many passengers as possible along fixed routes. Taking one of these taxis is expensive, but the alternative is waiting hours in the hot sun for an overcrowded bus.

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Cuba: A DIY Society?


After the U.S. left Cuba back in the 60’s, most of the engineers went with them, so [Fidel Castro] told the citizens to learn how to make stuff themselves. They were called the National Association of Innovators and Rationalizers (ANIR), and that’s exactly what they did. This was the beginning of Cuba’s backyard innovation.

Fastforward a few decades and the 90’s were a very difficult time for Cuba. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a severe economic downturn almost crippled the country, and as a result a Cuban DIY culture began to flourish even more — out of absolute necessity. No money, no imports, only what they already had. Making and fixing things became a part of life, you couldn’t just go out and buy a solution to your problem, you had to do it yourself. This might be one of the greatest examples of what a full-flung maker/DIY society would be like — well, maybe minus the communist part.

The excellent video after the break is a short story about the designer [Ernesto Oroza], who started collecting examples of this DIY culture under his art project aptly called, Technological Disobedience. It’s worth the watch, so take a look.

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