Solidarity in a Cuban Taxi

Dmitri Prieto

Havana collective taxi. Photo: Angel Yu

I was riding along in one of the private collective taxis that operate along the Havana-Guanabo route.  The fare costs $25 MN (about $1 USD), which is a little expensive for the average Cuban pocket.  Plus it’s even more of a burden for someone like me who has to take one of these inter-provincial trips every time I have to go into Havana.

It had rained just before days, but through the misty windows we could see the skid marks of a fatal traffic accident.

But now it was a sunny afternoon and the driver was going along telling stories.

It seemed that he knew one of his passengers well and this person asked him about the car that wrecked.  It turned out that it too was one of those taxis called “almendrones” (literally “big almonds,” given the size and shape of those late-1950s autos).   Our driver explained that the man  had died instantly and had been a friend of his.

It was sad to feel how that relatively young and sometimes very funny guy almost broke down and cried.  But he was able to maintain his poise and continue talking about the details of the incident, since he was the last person who saw the deceased driver (somewhat) alive.  I say “somewhat” because the man’s death occurred almost instantaneously, since the impact destroyed his brain.

Emotionally moved, he finished the story.  But he also added, “We’re collecting 1,000 pesos from each driver at the taxi terminal to get the car fixed so that the family can use it, and also to put a marker at the crash site.

“What?” one woman asked.  It happens that drivers of almendrones are notorious for their lack of solidarity and the hyper-competitiveness between them.

“But what do you think ma’am?” responded the driver, “…that our terminal is like the others?  No, we help each other out.  We’re united.  Last summer, when some drunks got in so-and-so’s taxi with sticks, we all went there with bats and stones, and the drunks took off running.  Plus, between all of us we were able to fix the car up like new.

It seems that Adam Smith had made a mistake in thinking that market economies only work thanks to selfish instincts and never due to genuine affection.

Today I look at the drivers from Guanabo with different eyes, even though I still have to give up $25 pesos MN for the trip.




2 thoughts on “Solidarity in a Cuban Taxi

  • Dmitri
    Think of what percent of 25 Cuban pesos you paid goes toward fixing the car , getting scarce parts and towards paying for gas or to pay for the state tax. When you add all this up these guys are barely scraping the bottom of the barrel. Some times it is really hard to place yourself in someone’s else shoes but we should try harder.

  • Good article, Dmitri. “Cooperation” and cooperative “affection” are part of our basic human nature.

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