By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – As a farmer, I need a shed for tools and supplies because it isn’t convenient to keep them at home, or in the tobacco drying barn. At home, because of our health and comfort; in the drying barn, because they don’t fit when I’ve harvested the tobacco crop and it’s not advisable, according to technical regulations.
A year or so ago, I tried to build this small shed legally, and I went to the Physical Planning office in the Mayari municipality with my father since he is the legal owner of the land. We arrived at 10 AM and there were approximately six employees in the reception hall, “the technicians”, as they’re called.
I apologized for interrupting their pleasant conversation and told them about my application. Sitting on her comfortable seat, a young woman decidedly told me: “we don’t deal with those cases today, you have to come on Monday or Tuesday.” I was a little upset about my lack of aim with the day, because it was Thursday.
Anyway, I waited until Tuesday in case it was very busy on the first day of the week, and I went back to the office with my father. I live about 3.5 kms away. I arrived at about 9:30 AM and I was surprised to see the same scene of office workers sitting on the reception furniture, which are supposedly for people who come to sort things out, not for them to sit around and chat. That’s when I figured that this is probably normal.
We said hello and I told them my reason for being there again, and the same young woman got off her seat this time and told us: “come with me”. We followed her to her office. There was a dark corridor, I guess to save electricity, and it was full of doors next to each other. It was a large room that had been divided up with artificial wood (from cane husk) into lots of mini-offices which could only fit a desk, a filing cabinet and a couple of chairs.
Once inside, squashed on top of each other and we were only three people, we were asked our details and told: “come back in 15 days.”
That really shocked us. That only took a couple of minutes and they had made us come back another day. “Is that it for today? Nothing else? Why didn’t you take such simple details from us last Thursday?” I asked, dismayed. “Because that’s the way it is,” she replied matter-of-factly.
I shook my head and I didn’t want to say anything else because it was clearly no worth it. We went home to wait. Actually, “the technician” on the ground passes by my house every day to get to hers, and she wasn’t late with the inspection.
We went back two weeks later, as we were told, and the answer was that my application hadn’t been approved because I had written “supplies” among the things I would store in my shed and a lot of tobacco farming supplies are chemical products. These have to be kept some 200 meters away from residential spaces, and there’s no way of keeping it this far away on my plot of land.
“But I have these chemical products anyway and they would be better stored away in a separate space, rather than with all of my other things like they have up until now”; “what do I do with the tools, you could approve it just for them and then the rest is my own responsibility,” I argued uselessly. It was my mistake to have mentioned them, but I wasn’t aware of this regulation.
However, the chemical products were the least of my worries because it makes sense to try and protect humans from them, bureaucracy and its lack of options, of being flexible, is the real problem. Everything is so cold, mechanical and alien. You can clearly sense their lack of resolve to provide a solution.
In these offices, employees can’t “resolve” food, cement or other tangible things, so this is why they steal your time. Although it’s not the same here as it is in other countries, where time is money; so, they just sit around and socialize.
They give you deadlines for paperwork and you’re able to meet these with a bit of luck, and when it’s time, you see how they can do everything for you in half an hour on the same day. That is to say, they could have done it when you asked them to. It’s wrong then to say that an application takes fifteen days, because they are processed in half an hour and they make you suffer 15 days or 15 weeks, a lot of the time.
I always remember this incident whenever I hear Diaz-Canel talk about being proactive, of demanding better results from state institutions and state-led companies with the same system of doing things. Just like I do whenever I hear them talk about the embargo (they call it the blockade), or any other excuse, the normal ones we always hear on the news when they want to justify the disaster that is our lives. The saddest thing is that pretty much everything works this badly.