A Five Year Battle with a Happy Ending
By Luis Rondon Paz
HAVANA TIMES — Finally, after nearly 5 years of fighting against Cuban bureaucracy, dealing with institutional opportunism and corruption, I managed to get the state-owned company Aguas de la Habana to install an independent pipe to supply my home with water.
What I went through in the last 5 months in order to reach my objective is something I would never wish on anyone else. I was left without strength, they wore me down, and I was always counting to 10 so as not to be forced to cause a public scandal.
There were several times that I was on the edge of doing something foolish, because I felt helpless and vulnerable in the face of the bureaucracy of a Cuban institution, which crushes you, humiliates you and practically breaks your soul with its indifference. Personally-speaking, I’m convinced that these are some of the things which damage the Cuban peoples the most in their day-to-day struggle to get by.
Anyhow, let me tell you how I managed to get this happy ending:
A while ago, I wrote about the red tape I faced in my efforts, which didn’t get me anywhere towards getting an independent water supply for my home. I was made aware that to have results in the short term using the legal channels available was impossible. According to the words from some of the company officials, “You’ll have to register your request again,” they said. I didn’t accept this response and began to look for alternative means, I sought legal advice with my lawyer, and I was referred to some of her friends to see if they could pressure the Aguas de La Habana Company using any institutional channels.
I found that delving into the inner workings of this institution’s bureaucracy is harder that knowing what the real financial situation of Cuba is. I received a negative response from every contact I was referred to. Until, through an old friend of my mother’s, we managed to get our case onto the national Aguas de La Habana system in the form of a complaint for poor service. “Now, all you have to do is wait,” the contact from the water company said.
We were waiting for fifteen days until one morning in December, an inspector from Aguas de La Habana came to my house to take note of “specific information relating to the case.” While he took down our ID numbers and the features of the building he said: “Your case is on our list of complaints, you’ll need to wait a few more days and then you’ll be told what the Management of Agua de La Habana have decided to do, so that the Regional Headquarters in Boyeros can deal with your case,” he concluded.
“Well, we’ll have to keep on waiting,” my mother said with a face that said that this is going to take longer that getting rid of our double currency, and I was counting to 10 the whole time so as not to send him to hell. “Patience Luis, patience,” I kept telling myself.
That same day, I found out that somebody else had managed to solve a similar problem in less than two weeks by paying quite a bit of money. I tried to make contact with this person twice but to no avail. When I thought about getting in touch with him for the third time, I found out from my contact at the National Aguas de La Habana Headquarters that my complaint had been approved and therefore, it was only natural that the Regional Office in Santiago de Las Vegas would manage the order to process my case, and so installing the supply connection wouldn’t take very long. That’s what I thought.
Fifteen more days went by and nothing had happened. Even my mother told me that the representative had gone to my house to invite me to the neighborhood meeting, as all the municipality’s officials were being invited to inform the Cuban people about their work. I had passed by the Regional Office that day by chance, this was the place where they told me that they had no knowledge about my complaint and that the only person who was authorized to tell me about my case was the Director, who was in a meeting with the government and they didn’t know what time she would be back.
“Well, let’s see what the Director has to say at the meeting tonight,” I thought and I recruited a relative to help me as my assistant in my intervention at the meeting, because I needed to record what I had to say in front of all those public officials on video.
That’s exactly what I did, and I paid a hefty price.
When the meeting was over, in the front door of my home, a PNR “National Revolutionary Police” patrol car pulled up, demanding that I immediately come down to the station and make a statement because they had received an “anonymous call” reporting that the neighborhood meeting was being recorded. This took place in front of all my neighbors and my mother who, in spite of her young age, suffers from several health complications.
To cut a long story short, when I explained that it was a public event, opposite my home, the official who was interrogating me had to laugh, say sorry and let me go. It’s important to add that I was kept at the police station for two hours.
Once I got home, I discovered my neighbors’ outrage and found my mother with a headache which had been brought on by the humiliation I was forced to endure for nothing. At the end of the day I hadn’t committed a crime, all I had done was exercise my right like any other Cuban citizen.
Several more months passed by after that event and the representative never came to say he was sorry for having allowed such a “misunderstanding” to take place. An event which almost killed my mother.
Three months went by and nothing had changed. The Regional Aguas de La Habana Office in Boyeros used the pretext that my case had already been approved, and that I would have to wait for the project manager to give the go ahead.
Things were like that for three months. “Come on Luis, here you go, count to 10 again,” I told myself biting down on the anger I felt for feeling so helpless. Then, I decided to make another complaint but with a different focus this time, this time it was directly with the customer support system which belongs to the National Aguas de La Habana Office in the capital’s Vedado neighborhood.
Conclusion: the result of my last complaint, along with the pressure I put on the company from Boyeros Government, the Regional Aguas de La Habana Office in Boyeros finally installed an independent water supply in my home in less than a month.
You could say that there was a happy ending, but the price I paid was extremely high, too high, and I’m ashamed to think that somebody else here in Cuba will have to go through as much just to get something as simple as an independent water supply.
Let this serve as an example of Cuban organizations, they need to change the way they work. Otherwise, the country will continue to be stuck in inertia, indifference, indolence, corruption and opportunism.