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.

[Thanks Nige!]

55 thoughts on “Cuba: A DIY Society?

        1. That sounds like Obamacare… exploitation of Americas by the 545 that control 390million! You got to go buy something, but you do not get to see what it is and then you are fined if you don’t, sounds like the Mafia…. protection insurance – sorry about the pun. America the land of the…. FREE!!!

          1. America has worse health outcomes for much higher prices because of one basic fact: it lacks a single payer health care system which more of the rest of the democratic world has long since realized is the best way to operate health care.

          2. The U.S. is too big for a “single payer” healthcare system.. It would be a bureaucratic nightmare. That’s why the majority of Americans don’t want the government involved in their life. The rest of the world contributes nothing to society and expects the U.S. tax payer to bail them out…

    1. I was about to write something like this by my self. I live in a flat, where half of furniture was made by my father in law. Not to mention underground production of alcohol from whatever was available. That was a state of mind. Now we use to throw things away, but back then, there were a dozen of shops which specialized in fixing this stuff..

      1. In fact it’s right to miss all solid stuff, and solid repair mans. (I miss em) But what you don’t miss is lack of choice :)
        If you don’t throw broken stuff your woman call you garbage man ;)

    2. Exactly the same in Czechoslovakia before 1989. There was lack of everything, so one had to make it himself or wait long for it. There was a magazine called simply Do It Yourself (Udělej si sám). This was very common in all soviet republics.
      However, it has some brighter sides. For example, there was a habit or more precisely a national sport called “If there’s something to steal on the workplace, steal it before others do”. Even today, you can get many items made before 1989.
      Every political system has its bright sides and trade-offs. The way communism cut our freedom, it made people learn how to make themselves what they needed. Thus people had, sadly, more technical insight and manual abilities than now.

  1. Look up the documentary “Yank Tanks”. It’s about American cars in Cuba and how they’ve kept them running since the 1960’s.

    Some people like to blame Cuba’s problems on the USA. Nothing has kept the rest of the world from engaging in commerce with Cuba. No other country has to abide by our embargo – but most other countries don’t want anything to do with Cuba either, except blame the USA for what the communists have done to the country.

    1. Yep you gotta love a guy who can but a Russian tank engine in a ’55 Chrysler with nothing more than a screw driver and bailing wire and actually get the thing to work. When you have next to nothing you get quite creative. Yeah hackers, Boo communism!

    2. You don’t have to do more than read the first paragraph on Wikipedia on the Helms-Burton Act to know that the US embargo extentds to everyone trading with Cuba, threatening legal action, keeping company representatives from entering the US, basically excluding them from the US market. Of course any profit oriented company will think twice which of the two is more painful to lose.

      Why is it that so many Gringos have to be taught their own country’s laws by foreigners?

    3. Check out he Helms-Burton Act:

      “The Title III of this law also states that any non-U.S. company that “knowingly trafficks in property in Cuba confiscated without compensation from a U.S. person” can be subjected to litigation and that company’s leadership can be barred from entry into the United States. Sanctions may also be applied to non-U.S. companies trading with Cuba. This restriction also applies to maritime shipping, as ships docking at Cuban ports are not allowed to dock at U.S. ports for six months.”

      1. really?

        last I heard I could get a flight direct to Cuba, last I heard I could walk into my local tabaconnist and buy Cigars fro cuba, last I heard Cuba was exporting sugar to lots of countries…

        the reason cuba does little trade is because aside from fine cigars there isn’t a huge amount of natural resource there that the rest of the world is interested in. if there were then they’d have been “helped to democracy” by now…

          1. yeah, a US law…
            all my last I heard are from a perspective of outside the US.

            My country is not blackmailed by the US for dealing with Cuba…
            My point is I can buy *almost* anything I like from Cuba, and so can literally 97% of the world. but I don’t as by and large there is little worth having that is produced there. (in my opinion.)

            My suggestion is that if there was anything worth having rather than penalizing countries dealing with Cuba out of spite for actions taken before *most* people in the country were alive, in a vastly different political world. the administration of the tiny island would have been “helped” into democracy the same way that resource rich middle eastern countries are being “helped” into democracy.

            Helms Burton act covers trafiking of property seized in revolution. – hardly relevant to any talk about trade, unless you consider dealing in stolen goods legitimate trade.

  2. I always wonder why Cuba doesn’t have British cars or Japanese cars. The British, Canada, etc. (all except the U.S.) have tourists there, huge modern resorts, etc. Why doesn’t Cuba buy cars from them? I agree that this has nothing (zero, zip) to do with the U.S. I hate always getting blamed for Cuba’s oppression.

    1. I was just on vacation there a few weeks ago, and I’m guessing it’s probably because Chinese cars are cheaper! All the tour busses are straight from China, and if a car isn’t from the 50’s, it’s also most likely Chinese. Although I did see some French Peugeots as well…Even a few odd ball Audi’s and Mercedes…

    2. Why not British?
      1. They drive on the wrong side of the road.
      2. Even a Cuban can not keep a British car running.
      The real answer is with what money? Cuba has very little in the way of hard currency and what it has they use to buy things that they really need like meds, machine tools, and what every the Castro’s want.

      1. Lol what an ignorant opinion. I suggest you do some research on the topic yourself. Before the revolution the americans were hated almost as much as Batista. There was a reason for that you know ? Plus Castro himself didn’t like the fact that the US sent supply of arms to Batista during the revolution. CIA’s tarded plots to overthrow the government and events such as La Coubre explosion didn’t help either.

  3. This should be what any kid would want to do. Reparing and Re-purposing is in many ways better than the rather compulsive consumption of the industrialised world (though I am honestly in on that as well, to some degree).

    Anyone else noting the framed photograph of an improvised double edged (non-safety) razor on the wall. :-s

  4. What is the ceiling? how far can someone go in DIY when only the very basics are available? Forget Arguino, Raspi beyond a dream, even a dead than a doornail printer is worth money… 3D printing? you a contrarevolucionario, comrade? BTW, everybody has legal Windows, since in Cuba copying software is fully legal. Because of that and phone-line quality internet, Open Software and whatever the rest of us consider DIY, collaborative work is unknown. Exactly like in any other corrupt, poor country.

  5. I actually saw a Cuban guy on a spanish speaking electronics forum and he seemed to do nice hacks with old parts around.

    There’s also a huge culture of maintaining a bunch of 60’s US cars they imported a long while ago. People can’t import cars anymore, so they have to maintain those and it’s getting expensive with the fuel costs increasing and whatnot.

  6. It really speaks to human nature…Castro can crush freedom, crush prosperity, and even crush the very will to live in many people to the point that they get into inner tubes and try to cross shark infested waters to get to Miami (if you have ever been to Miami, you may have considered a similar trip to get to somewhere else in Florida…so to risk life and limb for such a place says a lot about Cuba). In spite of all this, people are not just sitting down in the mud and saying, “f**k it”…they are trying to make life better (or at least keep it from degrading) by whatever means necessary. Downright inspiring. Makes me wonder if the embargo is simply to keep Castro alive so that Cuba can’t compete on the world stage.

  7. I have been to Cuba several times and it is only the wealthy that have new cars. You will see everything there from the 50s on up. I’ve even seen brand new Mercedes cars (usually taxis). Anyway they are a creative people but the reason you don’t see many newer cars is the Cuban peso is pretty much worthless, even to Cubans. They have 2 currencies down there one for tourists which is only good in Cuba.

    Most of the old cars have Lada Diesel engines in them to keep them running. And for all the Americans on here you get as much propaganda about Cuba as the Cubans get about you. It is a beautiful place but it has its social problems just like any where else. And at least they have free health care and some of the best doctors in the world. Sorry but it is true.

    1. You are kidding right? Best doctors in the world? Maybe the third world. I personally know several of their “doctors” that emigrated to the states, and I wouldn’t let them prescribe me a Flintstones vitamin.

  8. Mr. Oroza, if you’re reading this, I’d like to invite you to exhibit any of these wonderful projects at the Miami Mini Maker Faire, taking place in Wynwood on November 16th. Please visit our website for more information:

    Anyone else living in South Florida, we hope to see you there!

  9. “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.”

    I fear that the problem with this statement is that it ignores the facts…

    most people would still buy most things without the communist part giving a true burning necessity for actually repairing things yourself.

    Simple question, how many people do you know that change the oil in their own cars through choice?
    How many people take the easy route of taking their car to a garage?

    Basically, not everybody will do everything for themselves unless basically forced to. Either through political, monetary or social pressure.

    And even when they do, have you seen the standard of housing in Cuba, or the state of repair of some of the housing? Turns out that Cuba might be the ultimate maker society, but that’s not always a good thing when you want roofs that don’t leak or electrics that aren’t dangerous…

  10. The Socialist Castro Family Dictatorship of Cuba started in 1959.

    Fidel only stepped down due to ill health, and who replaces him? His brother Raoul. The Workers Paradise can’t trust a non family member to helm Socialist Cuba.

    1. isn’t that the way most societies work. (communist of capitalist)

      there are proles and ruling elites.

      not too dissimilar from famous political families of the USA.

      sure you can believe that there is democracy, but what is there really?
      your last president was the son of the guy two presidents before him, your current secretary of state is the wife of the president from two presidents ago, the Kennedy family.

      you get an illusion of choice, a selection of people who apparently climb through the ranks showing you that you’re still in the land of opportunity, but they are propped up by the usual side show of political families and inherited power.

      you’re free to do as you’re told, exactly as you are when you’re in Cuba, exactly as you are here in the UK, exactly as you are in the states.

      just in Cuba they have the balls to be up front about it.

  11. BTW when Fidel was deathly ill, he didn’t trust his life in the vaunted Cuban Healthcare system,. Fidel went to FRANCE.

    The little people have Cuban Healthcare. The Socialist elites go to France.

  12. My father and me have been for many years cuban ‘hackers’, in fact since I’as a 6 or 7 year old child I started disassembling my toys to see how they were made and soon started to change how they worked. Just as my father did with everything that came to his hands. I made from toys and boats to AM transceivers and many electronic gadgets and tools, even kerosene lamps. As we use to say “La Necesidad es la Madre de la Invención” (necessity is mother of invention).

    My father studied electronics and I followed his steps. He has one ’62 Ford Crestline (Victoria) that still is in shape, the carburator is not the original as my father modified one from a russian ‘volga’ for improving his car’s gas comsumption. He also replaced all the electronics (electrical wires, generator, regulators box, light controls), modified the brakes system and, with the help of two friends, also modified the motor block’s cylinders for replacing the pistons with a set of better ones.

    The radio that came with the car used vacuum tubes and generated AC power from the battery using one vibrator (one relay that continuously opens and closes the contacts, something extremely simple). At that time it was not possible to buy one transistors radio, so when the vibrator ‘got too tired’ to stay working he designed and built one astable multi-vibrator with some transistors (germanium type, at that time) to replace it. The radio currently laying in the car (now a transistors radio) was ‘reconstructed’ salvaging pieces from several broken radios.

    Most ‘hacks’ we (the cubans) made (and make) are motivated by concrete necessities (for fun too), not only in daylife things, but also in medical equipement designs, education, labs, industrial automation, and main reason in many cases is because of severe restrictions the US government imposes on exports to Cuba and, believe it or not, even to other countries that try to commerce with Cuba (or cuban citicens). Several of the biggest companies in the world (several of them medicals) outside of the US have been blackmailed and received official notifications from US government agencies to stop commerce with Cuba, alleging that a large percentage of components were manufactured or designed by US companies and also by restictions imposed by laws known as Helms-Burton and Torricelly (sorry if misspelled that).

    Just in case any one here plans to visit Cuba, help or collaborate with any cuban institution (or citicen) or simply commerce with any cuban or cuban company or institution, please read here ( to have an idea of what the US government restricts US citicens from doing with respect to Cuba. All exports to Cuba must be authorized by the Tressure Department. Dell can not sell computers to Cuba (go to their page and read), Philips can not sell X-Ray imaging aquipment to Cuba, Altera does not sell FPGAs to Cuba… as an excersice just try to complete the list, you’ll have to list almost all american companies (with the exception of a few ones in the last years) and a long list from the rest of the world.

    Not only you should read the personal and mass media blogs and publications, also read the official (and leaked) documents from the US government, you’ll find thousands of interesting (and also scaring) gems there hiding in between the words freedom and democracy.

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