The End to Many Public Services in Cuba

By Nike

HAVANA TIMES – Cojimar was always a peaceful town, with a discreet bay and coral reef beaches. It was known as a fisherman’s town, although nowadays it is pretty hard to find a fish. But that isn’t what I want to talk about today. As a town near Havana, Cojimar had many public services that disappeared over twenty years ago.

Some of them didn’t reach until the ‘90s, like gas. This service would come to our homes on a truck which, in addition to the driver, carried two workers who had the task of transporting the full cannister of gas to the place it had to be installed, and they would take the empty one back. The customer didn’t have to touch the gas cannister which weighed 100 pounds.

Women fetching their gas canisters.

This delivery had to be requested via a card that you would hand in to the post office, and the truck would come before your cannister ran empty. This service cost 11 Cuban pesos.

Towards the mid-1990s, the 100-pound cannisters were replaced by the ones today that weigh 20-25 pounds and you must go to the place designated by the State to get it, and within a preestablished period of time.

The image of a young or elderly woman carrying a balita del gas (as we say) is one of those pitiful things that I can never get used to. This also entails a great deal of effort for our men. Many of them suffer back and knee pain as a result.

The most common health problem in my country after high blood pressure, is perhaps back pain. It’s something I’ve personally deduced from seeing my own husband suffer, as well as the many men I see walking around wearing waistbands.

At the end of the day, services are meant to make our lives easier…

Laundry services were another service that we had until the ‘90s. As a child, I remember the truck that used to go to my grandparents’ home offering to wash, iron and dye all kinds of clothes, even curtains, bedcovers etc., for an affordable price.

That slowly died out. I remember in the early ‘90s, my grandfather began to complain that the shirts he got back weren’t his and that the trousers were almost the latest trend. However, my friend Friki would get bags full of ‘40s suits that my grandfather wore, at his house.

That was the funnier part. The painful part for my grandparents was when their shirts came back ripped with their buttons melted by irons. While their wedding bedsheets – probably memories of their honeymoon – would come back dirty or with oil stains.

That oil stain detail was something that bothered my grandfather until the day he died. He once showed me those stains, angry, and told me that those sheets had put up with three governments and they hadn’t a single hole. That service no longer exists.

Water bottles that used to be delivered to peoples’ homes.

As a child, I also saw the La Cotorra water bottle trucks coming from Guanabacoa. One of those trucks would pass by every week and the worker – just like the gas one – would leave the bottle in your house, where you told him to.

That went on until the 1980s. I remember it exactly, because it was at that time that we began to boil water at home. Like the above services, this one also disappeared without leaving a trace, and without another service to take its place.

During my childhood, a farmer would leave a liter of cow milk at our door, every dawn. He would charge for it at the end of the month. That also went on until the 1980s.

Up until the 1990s, we had TV engineers who would come to your home. This was just an expert who came to fix your TV in your house. I remember how excited I was when I came home from school and discovered that the TV had been fixed. The technician’s visit cost 5 Cuban pesos. The repair charge depended on how difficult it was to fix.

All of these services were inherited from a time before my birth. It’s been over twenty years now without home services. You have to go outside for absolutely everything. The State recently tried to sell things online because of COVID-19. It was a failure.

Something I never got to see were the cabins on the beach where you could keep your clothes, and showers to wash off sand and salt. It may sound crazy. It’s not that restlessness of always having to constantly watch your clothes in the sun or being uncomfortable on a bus with your body full of sand and your skin stinging with salt.

We have been indoctrinated for many years now, with the idea that such services are a product of a bourgeois mindset. We aren’t the bourgeoisie today, but we have slowly been leaning towards being apes because of the wear and tear to our proletarian spine.

Read more from Nike’s diary here.

3 thoughts on “The End to Many Public Services in Cuba

  • N.Lynch:

    No, I do not think I am being naïve as you state. If you have ever been to Cuba, you will see people loading their canisters of gas on bicycles or using other home made transportation methods to transfer the heavy load. No need for vehicle or petrol. I agree there is an extreme shortage of essential items, such as gas, but for an innovative Cuban entrepreneur(s) if there is a will there is always a way. Unlike Western society, Cubans, from my experience, do not shy away from hard, physical labor.

    This is why Cubans have been so resourceful and ingenious at coming up with ways to deal with practical problems that we here sitting comfortably in our chairs in the Western world cannot fathom or we simply capitulate.

    As I stated in my contribution, the solutions I proposed were based on the current Cuban government actually beginning to recognize the importance of small business enterprise and actually fulfilling their stated goals of doing something concretely to spur local Cubans to become entrepreneurial. Granting business licenses need to be and may become a mere formality.

    Let’s face it to begin and successfully operate a business how many times does one have to fail whether one lives in the Western world or in Cuba. Yes, it is significantly harder in Cuba to operate a small business but one needs to begin somewhere, somehow. Where there is opportunity no matter the obstacles those who want to do the hard work and succeed, it may just work!

  • I think that you are being a little naive. Firstly a delivery service would need a dependable vehicle, but the big hurdle, no petrol (gas), plus as usual, it takes years to get the permissions

  • In any situation, for some the proverbial glass of water can be seen as half full or half empty. Any aspiring, motivated, enthusiastic, entrepreneur obviously sees the glass as half full. The point here is given the fact, according to Nike, that many public services have been discontinued in Cuba today a Cuban entrepreneur or a group of Cuban entrepreneurs can see an opportunity rather than a loss from this situation.

    Take the example of the gas canisters “balita del gas” that almost all Cuban house holds must use to operate their stoves. As Nike has pointed out these canisters are extremely heavy once weighing 100 pounds and now weighing 20-25 pounds. That is a heavy burdensome weight to carry for an older, perhaps handicapped individual plus the individual needing gas must travel to a designated State sanctioned place to pick up the gas and at a certain time.

    Isn’t this a great entrepreneurial opportunity for a Cuban, or a group of Cubans, to take on the task of going from house to house (marketing) and asking home occupants if they would like to have their gas canister refilled, and returned full for a fee? Now, I am assuming that the Cuban government will allow a small business to operate provided the business is licensed, pays taxes, and isn’t profiteering. Isn’t this the “new” approach the Cuban communist government wants to see its residents employed and begin to prosper?

    Young, strong, youthful Cuban youth(s) who may not have a job can turn this opportunity to some form of success. As Nike states: “At the end of the day, services are meant to make our lives easier…” Yes, but for some services they are best left at the hands of local entrepreneurs rather than the State being involved in every aspect of a residents’ lives.

    Similarly, with laundry services. Surely, the Cuban State does not need to be in the business of “. . . offering to wash, iron and dye all kinds of clothes, even curtains, bedcovers etc., for an affordable price.” Again, an aspiring Cuban entrepreneur, male or female, or a group can begin offering this service at a small scale and with time and resources branch out to offer laundry services on a larger scale.

    Plus, the laundry service offered will be more attentive to the customers’ needs and wants as opposed to the State’s so called laundry service whereby, according to Nike, “ . . . when their shirts came back ripped with their buttons melted by irons. While their wedding bed sheets – probably memories of their honeymoon – would come back dirty or with oil stains.” Why would a state employee do any better?

    Such poor customer service would not happen in a private entrepreneurial enterprise because the customer would stop sending shirts to be cleaned to such a deplorable operation. Competition would begin to open up and this begins the private sector business opportunities creating jobs, creating a sense of well being, a sense of pride, among those who are engaged in such business ventures.

    Nike states: “We have been indoctrinated for many years now, with the idea that such services are a product of a bourgeois mindset.” The services discussed offered by the State certainly are not a product of a bourgeois mindset, but they are services that the State needs not be involved in when there are many strong, able bodied Cubans, men and women, who can offer these services to their compatriots with the explicit support of the Cuban government and begin, not a bourgeois class from sprouting, but a bustling business class that is so much needed in Cuba today.

Comments are closed.