Catching a Politician’s Ride

Dariela Aquique

Jose Miguel Gomez. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES, April 16 — Jose Miguel Gomez was a soldier and a Liberal Party politician who was elected as Cuba’s second president, an office he held four years (1908 to 1912) until he resigned.

During his administration, major public works projects were carried out such as the construction of a sewer system and the paving of most of Havana. In addition, he paid great interest to the communications and health care infrastructure, created rural schools to ensure that those in the countryside were educated, and he established the Academy of Arts and Letters, the History Academy, and the National Museum.

Notwithstanding, his government was sharply criticized for some of the public service concessions it granted and several laws that were quite controversial (such as the authorization of cockfighting and the national lottery).

In fact, he earned the nickname: Tiburón (the Shark) along with the popular saying: “When the Shark takes a bath the water splashes,” for the common occurrence of government corruption scandals involving the distribution of public offices, cushy appointments which in those days were popularly referred to as “las botellas” (to be given a ride).

These positions awarded to the families and friends of political leaders, were appointments whose true functions were essentially nonexistent, though these individuals were paid for merely holding these posts.

Later, one of the priorities of the reform agenda of the Cuban Revolution was, from its inception, to get rid of all “botellas,” though things haven’t really worked out as initially planned.

A few years ago while working as a drama teacher at the art instructors’ school in my city, I ran into the former principal of my old high school.

This person had retired a few years earlier, but since he had maintained close relations with the education ministry, someone gave him a contract to serve as an adviser to the director of the art school.

One day we ran into each other in the hallway and, upon recognizing each other, we started talking. It was then that he admitted, “I have this job, and even though I know it doesn’t serve any real purpose, it’s good to have a comfortable addition to my tiny retirement check.”

I laughed somewhat sarcastically and said, “Oh, a botella.”

Looking around sheepishly, he responded, “Oh, come on now. Don’t say it like that compañera (comrade).”

A few days ago, I read in the press how two major figures (the former minister of Culture, Abel Prieto Jimenez; and Jose Ramon Fernandez, a former minister of Education and more recently the director of sports-related activities) had been replaced at their posts but are now serving as direct advisors to the country’s president.

That was when the thought hit me: It seems like we’re back to the botellas.