“Cuba Says”: Same Old Anxiety

Dmitri Prieto

Havana bus. Foto: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Shortly after arriving from Russia (yes, I was in Russia for a couple weeks, visiting relatives), I noticed that Cuban television has introduced an innovative new program – added a new section to the news, to be more exact – with the suggestive name of “Cuba Says.”

It is a brief editorial segment aired some days of week, in which journalists interview people on the street and government officials, as well as authorities from different local and business sectors.

This past Tuesday, they focused on how bad public transportation is in Cuba.

Everyone knows that Cuba’s transportation system (public transportation, that is, not the means of getting around rented out, lent or otherwise privately offered to government officials, the well-to-do or tourists) is in dire straits. What’s interesting for me is seeing a Cuban television program say what one has grown accustomed to hear on the street, and not without considerable courage and decorum.

It would seem the segment hopes to let some fresh air into the far from transparent universe of Cuban television (ideologically saturated with political diatribes and bourgeois pop culture).

As one would expect, the customer complains, the manager makes excuses, and people go on familiar (and not unfounded) rants about shortages and the lack of work ethic or scruples or organization.

What I don’t hear are concrete proposals. It is reasonable to assume that, if a driver employed by the State has some “under the table” dealings, the same thing could happen with a driver working in a co-op if faced with material shortages. The drive to make profits tends to edge people closer and closer to privatizing and individualist patterns of behavior.

In the case of transportation sector, a consumer cooperative could be the first step to overcome current difficulties, particularly for those people who have to travel regularly. No one even suggests this, however.

Generally speaking, the media impose a cognitive map of the situation in which you have people who know things, have studied everything in depth and happen to be the ones in charge. The thing is, they’re in charge and nothing changes. Those at the “bottom” can at least complain on television now.

It’s not a bad start. However, this same Cuban news program tells viewers that another seminar aimed at teaching Cuban officials to become “leaders” in is in the works.

I wonder how many Cuban officials are true leaders, in their own offices, even.

Transparency does not, in and of itself, create the feedback that we would need to build a truly democratic, libertarian society.

When the tide of complaints heard in Cuba’s evening news recedes, we are left with the same old familiar sediment of anxiety.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

2 thoughts on ““Cuba Says”: Same Old Anxiety

  • When I studied Computer science one of the subjects I covered was Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. The main model for a computer to learn something consists of rewards sanctions and a feedback loop – this gets more complicated when you need several feedback loops. Anyway the point is that when you strip away the ideological and political questions about ownership what you are left with is something similar and for any enterprise to run effectively you need all three of these.

    If we take the reward thing – well this is difficult to do straight away as there isn’t a huge lot to spare, but there may be other things such as extra days off or how about shares that mature in 3 yrs time if things have improved.

    Sanctions – this seems to be the least effective. It seems that no ones arse gets kicked for anything. The reward for skimming are far greater than the sanctions of getting caught. Responsibility needs to be apportioned a lot more effectively.

    Feedback – This is also lacking. One way is to use market forces, but assuming we don’t want to do that and don’t want the press washing dirty linen in public. Is that the only way? The company I work for has internal surveys, customer surveys, external auditing, analysis of tweets and more than anything there are benchmarks and quality gates set for each department. These are becoming more and more important than simple market forces as these can be unreliable. But all these depends on having reliable data.

    Sorry if this is a bit rambling or boring. It is just random thoughts and would welcome any comments.

  • I agree with your approach, Dimitri; it is time to start doing something about these problems, rather than just complaining and whining about them. I totally agree that, with transporation, the key is to set up a variety of alternatives, including coops, small private entrepreneurs, competition between state enterprises, etc. Last October, for example, I noticed that, in addition to the P-14 from near the Capitolio to the Frank Pais Hospital on Ave. 51 in La Lisa, that for a few pesos there was an air-conditioned bus travesing the same route. Not sure who sponsored that bus, but it was like the difference between heaven and hell. Also, the “machinas”/”almendrones” plying the same route are far better than being squished in, like sardines in a can, into those traveling saunas know as the metrobuses. They are a luxury (sometimes a necessity, as was the case when the bus which takes workers to/from their place of employment failed to appear and my friend Siria was left stranded) that most Cubans, on $20+/- per month, cannot afford on any regular basis. The bici-taxis are also a good local alternative, at least for trips w/in a couple of km, such as trips to the bakery, “choppin,” the agropecuario, etc. Since the Metrobus (and other feeder buses) in Habana are so inadequate, the government should facilitate the incorporation of additional camiones, jitneys, horse-carts, whatever. In the end, what is needed is a truly modern mass transportation system, such as monorails, elevated and subways. Cuba, of course, lacks the capital to construct such a system. In the meantime, allow a mix of public and private transportation to make life at least a bit more bearable for those unlucky enough to have to depend on it for their daily transportation needs. We have similar problems here. In the town where I live, Brattleboro, Vermont, there is an inadequate public transportation system (bus), whose schedule is too infrequent. Taxis are too expensive for most folks. It could be fixed by the same mix of jitneys, bici-taxis (at least in the Spring,Summer and Fall) and horse-carts, but insurance and state regulations make the latter difficult.

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