Cuba's economy has
been in free-fall since the Soviet Union collapsed, and essential cash and
commodity (mainly oil) subsidies stopped. While expanding the tourism business
has helped avoid complete economic catastrophe, one of the major casualties has
been the national railroad. Much cargo, and most passenger service has been
halted, as the railroad system slowly disintegrated from lack of investment. That
has changed, now that China and Iran have come forward to finance new rolling
stock (550 cargo wagons and 200 passenger cars from Iran, and a hundred engines
from China) and supporting gear (especially new signaling and communications).
Last year, China and Iran signed loan
deals with Cuba. This is not a new relationship. When the Russians moved out
(the Cubans reacted badly to the cutting of Soviet subsidies), China and Iran
moved in. This has proved useful. Back in July, 2003, satellite broadcasters transmitting
television shows to Iran found their signals being jammed. The source of the
jamming was quickly traced to Cuba. A satellite signal is very difficult to jam
as it comes down from the satellite. But if you are close to the ground station
that beams the signal up to the satellite, you can more easily interfere with
that. At first it was thought that the Cuban government, using an old Soviet
era electronic eavesdropping facility outside Havana, were doing the jamming as
a favor to Iran (which buys Cuban support with supplies of cut rate oil.) The
Chinese now run the old Soviet facility, and pay well. The Cuban government denied it had anything to do with
the jamming and said it would find out where the jamming was coming from, and
they did. Within a few weeks, the Cuban government reported that they had
traced the jamming signal to a suburban compound owned by the Iranian embassy.
The Cubans ordered the jamming to stop, and it did. But the Iranians stuck
around, and began to develop the kind of relationship that China already had.
That's how you build, or rebuild, a railroad.