HAVANA TIMES – A retail merchant conveniently stands a few meters away from the bus’ official stop, with sacks full of merchandise and gestures to the bus driver with a note in hand. The bus driver takes a good look and depending on how much the person is trying to flag him down with, either stops or carries on.
The economic crisis that is on the horizon, as well as the limits and consequences of the so-called Special Period in the ‘90s, means that today, many people in Cuba don’t want to be taken by surprise and are therefore resorting to different strategies to try and resolve their financial problems.
Recently, the space on buses designated for baby prams or people with special needs has been frequently used by retail merchants to transport sacks of merchandise in the morning.
When this is the case, the bus driver stops the bus and the individual quickly gets the bags of merchandise into the abovementioned space, with the help of another passenger. “Go on driver…” he shouts and immediately walks past passengers, the 20 peso note in his hand on show for all to see.
This hasn’t become a widespread practise, but there are already Cubans who are trying to solve the transport problem in this way which, although illegal because it implies using a space for people with special needs, is much cheaper than renting out a car or truck.
“This is also a need, by the looks of it, soon there won’t be anything to load, nor transport period,” a passenger says quietly about the retail merchant, while the rest of the passengers seem to be a bit more lost in thought.
I’m struck by how the threat of a new Special Period crisis has started off by affecting the most vulnerable first, people with “special needs”. On the other hand, retail merchants, who might not be so disadvantaged as them, feel that they need to take care of their own needs, because if they don’t, who will?