Match Box tells of Cuba Woes….

It is a small match box.  On the top a picture of “Jardines de La Tropical” on the flip side “Parque Metropolitano de La Habana.” The match brand is “Chispa” which translates: “spark.” The company that makes the matches is listed as, “Emp.Nacional de Fosforos.” The box said it contained 70 matches. WTVJ photographer John Lang plucked the little box out of a 14 foot  diesel powered, hand made boat that had brought eight Cuban men to the United States. After checking it out John gave the match box to me for a souvenir.

The boat was beached on Virginia Key, the eight refugees were long gone when we got there. They were likely being processed by Immigration officials and probalby were already with their Miami families.

I put the little match box on my desk and it sat there for a day before I picked it up and looked at it again.  There was an e-mail address on it for the park and I thought,  “what the heck,” lets check out the origins of the little Cuban curiosity.

What I found spoke volumes about Cuba, and why Cubans are so frustrated with their system. 

It seems that the Chispa matches don’t work! At least they do not work very well and in what appears to be a part of the Raul Castro inspired ability to criticize the system, Gramma,  the government controlled newspaper in an extensive article, detailed woes of the state owned match making company.

Essentially according to Gramma, all the factories are outdated with 1950’s technology. Emp. Nacional de Fosforos produces 170 million boxes a year in the five match factories that are located in Pinar de Rio, Camaquey, Palma Soriano and Guantanamo and in a Havana neighborhood. The factories struggle with inferior raw material, administrators say they are acquiring new mixings for the match heads and better sand paper. The major problem are the factories ancient machinery. Parts are hard to get, have to be self manufactured. “They are still in production thanks to the work of innovators and other workers of long experience,” Reports Gramma which goes on to say, “Another problem is a fluctuating labor force. Part of the qualified technical staff has left the company to go to work in other sectors, looking for better salaries and working conditions.” The administrators promise new mechanical technology is on the way from Europe and will be installed sometime soon.

The little box tells a big story. It is a symbol of what’s wrong on the island. Nothing seems to work.

 Quoting again from Gramma, “Every time I am going to light my gas stove I use an incredible amount of matches, commented Gisela, while here neighbors shared her annoyance.”  Apparently it can sometimes take half the box of matches to get one to fire up.

Not surprising when John pulled the match box from the boat it was empty.

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One Response

  1. “Within a few hours a PT- Boat pulled alongside and these officers came aboard the LCI. They pulled out this big map and informed us that tomorrow is going to be D- Day. Our outfit’s orders are to assault a place on the French coast code- named Utah Beach. The attack was just a few hours away. / p “At five o’clock on the morning of June 6 the front of our transport went down and we were off. The ramp opened up 200 yards short of dry beach and we stepped out into shoulder- deep water. / p “I had just turned…

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