A Cuban with Initiative

Isbel Diaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES, April 25 — He surprised everyone at the bus stop. He appeared there — determined and without the least embarrassment — with his bag of empty cans slung over his shoulder. He then began to deftly put them in a funny line just under the bus.

He simply ignored the people on the sidewalk who were making jokes about his work. Nor was he concerned that I, timidly, was approaching him to snap a few photos. He just smiled and continued with his work.

His strategy obviously was to avoid the drudgery of flattening one soda or beer can at a time. The powerful force of public buses, always packed with passengers, would do in three seconds what it would otherwise take him almost a quarter of an hour to achieve.

He would wait for a bus to pull up, and as soon as this happened he would go running over to the rear wheel. The more cans he managed to line up before the vehicle pulled out, the more efficient his work was.

From the instances I was able to count, the man managed an average of fifteen cans at a time. This depended on the haste of the driver and the speed with which passengers got on and off the bus.

I tried to imagine his exhausting day:

1. Traveling to a neighborhood that produces enough of this type waste, preferably a touristic area or a very central downtown location such as Vedado, Playa or Old Havana.

2. Collecting beverage cans from garbage cans, always at odds with other “buzos” (divers) like himself, always exposed to the risk of contracting some kind of disease owing to a lack of protection, and always in jeopardy of being fined by a state inspector.

3. Moving the filled bags to a place where he could “process” the cans, in this case the bus stop.

4. Hiding the excess cans and moving somewhere with only one bag at a time to avoid fines and to get around easier.

5. Engaging in the flattening the cans, where if it’s a mechanized process (like in this case), it includes the risk of being hit by the bus. If it’s a manual process, the possibility of getting cut and contracting an infection is high.

6. Moving the bags of flattened cans to the market place. Some of them have rickety carts that are useful.

Not everyone can sell the fruits of their recycling labor directly, since people are required to pay for a license from the government. Therefore, many of these people sell their sack-loads at a lower price to other “divers” who have a license and can take advantage of the situation.

As we have seen, the process is dangerous and exhausting. Irresponsible behavior on the part of many people and the lack of effective state strategies for recycling has created these opportunities for these individuals.

Divers should receive special health care, be provided with appropriate tools, and be allowed to organize themselves into unions or cooperatives to work together to defend themselves against social injustices and acts of discrimination they suffer.

Personally, I appreciate their efforts, though I don’t count myself among those people who throw trash down on the street. Seeing this particular man revived the idea of ??collecting cans and debris along the Havana seawall, an initiative that the members of the Critical Observatory network organized in 2010.

This man’s daring initiative shows the ingenuity of many people who are seeking a way to survive here on this island, something much more colorful than what they try to sell in the tourist brochures.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

One thought on “A Cuban with Initiative

  • I have never seen anyone do this but it does not surprise me. Great observation and interesting post. Viva la Revolution Cubano!

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