Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just do it

If you are in Havana and find yourself at 512 Neptuno, between Campanario and Perseverancia streets, you will run across one of the most unusual examples of trabajo por cuenta propia (self-employment), and one of the most amazing examples of Cuban innovation, that I have ever seen.

In an old book warehouse, there’s a gymnasium with an open area upstairs for aerobic exercise, and the entire downstairs is full of weightlifting machines.

The gym was the idea of some locals. They got permission from municipal authorities to create it and to charge admission. They also got a license under self-employment regulations. Men pay 100 pesos for monthly membership, women pay 60 pesos, retirees and people with special needs pay nothing.

What wasn’t immediately apparent to my eye is that all the weight machines are home made. The proprietors looked at equipment in weight training magazines and decided they could make their own. So they collected scrap metal and other materials piece by piece and started welding. The result is a facility with dozens of machines with red painted steel frames that allow for every kind of exercise that I could imagine.

I first visited in 2000. My notes remind me that the founder, a retired merchant mariner named Ignacio, told me then that he runs special programs for women. Most gyms in Cuba are for men, he said, because “we’re a little machista.” “Women don’t know what exercise can do for them,” he said. “I always tell them that Demi Moore and Sharon Stone were not born that way.”


Gusano said...

Thanks for that post. I was just whining abot having to use dial-up because my broadband is out.

Mambi_Watch said...

Great post Phil.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, great post -- for anyone who doesn't want more for the Cuban people. This site treats the Cuban people as nothing more than some freakin' National Geographic oddity -- see the industrious natives make do with nothing but garbage about them! Aren't they so cute! Some of us want a little more for the Cuban people, like enjoying the benefits of living in the 21st century.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Phil!

Mambi_Watch said...

By the way, I saw your interview last night with Maria Elvira Salazar. You did great. Hope to see you there again. I wrote about it on my blog. I thought you got cheated.

Phil Peters said...

Anon, how you derive what I want or don't want for the Cuban people from that post is beyond me.

Mambi, thanks for the write-up. I didn't see what followed my segment, because I left the studio. But I can hardly agree that I was cheated. I got 30 minutes, pretty generous. To me, her questions were entirely fair.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

I see that you link to BabalĂș, which does not link to you; but you do not link to Killcastro, which does link to you.

Any special reason?

Mambi_Watch said...


30 minutes is great, I enjoyed it. Generous in comparison to what other Cuba experts don't get, but little compared to what Marzo Fernandez and other hard-line Cuba experts get.

Her questions were fair, I agree. All interviews should be tough and challenging. But, Salazar didn't apply the same standard to Marzo. And, neither does she play devil's advocate with other experts.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"Yeah, great post...This site treats the Cuban people as nothing more than some freakin' National Geographic oddity -- see the industrious natives make do with nothing but garbage about them! Aren't they so cute!"

ANON, you are riciculous, delusional, and paranoid. You have never been to Cuba, so why do you speak as if you knew Phil's intentions or that you even know what is best for cubans?

Tambien, es probable que ni siquiera habala espanol ni ha estado en un pais del "tercer mundo" o el caribe por lo general.

Thanks for this blog Phil.