From the Central Highway heading toward the town of Esperanza, you can see a place which appears to be a garbage dump, at first sight. There, Yenobys Sanchez Perez (who is only 26 years old) leads a private imports replacement project which saves Cuba tens of thousands of dollars, every year.
Plastic cones and caps are exclusively made here to put together on railroad ties on railway tracks. “They protect electricity systems which adhere to the ties, it isolates them from coming into contact with concrete and water.”
“These are crucial elements to ensure that rail tracks work properly and are protected,” Yenobys asserts.
The exclusive buyer of all of this merchandise is the Industrial Company of Permanent Installations, the only railroad tie factory in Cuba. Built using Soviet technology, the factory lacks the money to install, recapitalize and modernize its plastic smelting workshop, which is why Yenobys’ small factory is the perfect fit for them.
“Every month, we deliver an order of 100 000 parts of every kind, which means we have to have our machines running 24 hours per day,” says the leader of a business which subcontracts 20 another employees.
“Getting to where I am now wasn’t easy. From the very beginning, they [the authorities] looked at me suspiciously and treated me with distrust which leads to ignorance,” he admits.
Having graduated in Clinical Laboratory Science (“a speciality which hasn’t contributed in the slightest to making this idea come to life,” he says joyfully), Yenobys has found an opportunity for his personal development in Cuban railways’ needs.
“The Industrial Company of Permanent Installations needed support to replace the out-of-date Italian technology which they have. It was impossible for them to invest in that moment and so they talked to us to channel our project.”
In the first few months, they found that there wasn’t a legal way for a state-owned company to pay them as the simple independent workers they are. An unorthodox interpretation of the statutes of association to the Cuban Fund of Cultural Goods allowed this plastic workshop to form part of one of their projects, even though plastic cones and caps have nothing to do with the manufacture of shoes, fabrics or handmade pots which the Fund normally takes on. Thus, they were finally able to earn money for their work.
The scale of this idea is interesting, but it isn’t only about resolving key elements for railroad ties and trains as a result, but it also contributes to recovering disposable plastics, such as plastic bags.”“As well as substituting imports, we save the country from spending hard currency because the railroad tie factory doesn’t pay us in US dollars, which it would have to do if it were importing the items we produce. We are paid in CUC and everything stays in Cuba, mainly as tax contributions.
According to Yenobys, until small workshops like his own were set up on the island, all of the plastic which entered the country was burnt or buried every year, whether that was plastic bags or plastic packaging which came with baggage and imported goods.
“We have created a machine which large industries have. Here we melt and compact the same plastic nobody wants. I didn’t even know how to work with this product, but we have learned how to manipulate it,” he says.
Quality assurance testers from state industry certify the products that the small workshop delivers, where they say they are rigorous “just like us as contractors”.
When the former clinical lab technician was looking for new work prospects, he began to make hoses, plastic tubes for irrigation and electric hot water systems for domestic use. After the beneficial association with the railroad tie factory was made, the center closed down.
Slowly, Yenobys has been building his small emporium, a workshop which only wants to be useful.