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'Technological Disobedience': How Cubans Manipulate Everyday Technologies For Survival


In Cuban Spanish, there is a word for overcoming great obstacles with minimal resources: resolver.

Literally, it means to resolve, but to many Cubans on the island and living in South Florida, resolviendo is an enlightened reality born of necessity.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba entered a "Special Period in Times of Peace", which saw unprecedented shortages of every day items. Previously, the Soviets had been Cuba's principal traders, sending goods for low prices and buying staple export commodities like sugar at above market prices.

Rationing goods was a normal part of life for a long time, but Cubans found themselves in dire straights without Soviet support. As the crisis got worse and worse over time, the more creative people would have to get.

Verde Olivo, the publishing house for the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, published a largely crowdsourced book shortly after the Special Period began. Titled Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos (With Our Own Efforts), the book detailed all the possible ways that household items could be manipulated and turned inside out in order to fulfill the needs of a starving population. 

NOTE: Download "Con Nuestros Propios Fuerzos" As A PDF Here

Included in the book is a famous recipe for turning grapefruit rind into makeshift beef steak (after heavy seasoning).

Cuban artist and designer Ernesto Orozawatched with amazement as uses sprang from everyday items, and he soon began collecting these items from this sad but ingeniously creative period of Cuban history.

"People think beyond the normal capacities of an object, and try to surpass the limitations that it imposes on itself", Oraza explains in a recently published Motherboard documentary that originally aired in 2011.

Oraza coined the phrase "Technological Disobedience", which he says summarizes how Cubans reacted to technology during this time.

After graduating from design school to an abysmal economy, Oraza and a friend began to travel the island and collect these unique items from every province.  

These post-apocalyptic contraptions reflect a hunger for more, and a resilience to fatalism within the Cuban community.

"The same way a surgeon, after having opened so many bodies, becomes insensitive to blood, to the smell of blood and organs… It's the same for a Cuban," Oraza explains.

"Once he has opened a fan, he is used to seeing everything from the inside… All the symbols that unify an object, that make a unique entity-- for a Cuban those don't exist."

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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