The Traffic Police and Accidents in Guantanamo, Cuba

Rosa Martínez


HAVANA TIMES — Professional drivers, and particularly the drivers of private vehicles, often complain about the steep and frequent fines that traffic police give them everywhere, forcing many of them to spend long periods of time without being able to work (as these fines are cumulative and soon invalidate driver licenses).

I have been told of more than one caballito, as the motorized traffic police are popularly known in Cuba, who has set their sights on a driver without any good reason – simply because it is said they speed, or because they broke the law on one occasion (and so they go after them, as the Catholic Church did with witches centuries ago).

There are also those who, while on duty, rather than park at a visible spot, hide near routes where traffic violations take place regularly, so as to return to the station with their pockets full of tickets – when, in fact, the job of these police officers ought to be to prevent violations and accidents.

We should, however, be honest: not all caballitos are unjust, not all of them take bribes and not all of them are arrogant or abuse their authority. Most merely try to fulfill their civic duties and prevent regrettable accidents from taking place while they’re on duty – accidents like the ones that took place in Guantanamo in recent days.

This past 26th of September, on the highway located in Caimanera, the municipality in Guantanamo where the US naval base is located, an accident that resulted in the death of one person and left 29 others injured (and some in critical condition), took place.

The bus with license plate NSH636, and one of the so-called petro-homes, was involved in the tragic incident. According to official sources, the cause of the accident was a violation of an article of the Road Safety Code, which stipulates that drivers must retain due control of their vehicles on the road.

That same day, in the town of Guaso, two accidents that did not involve loss of life but resulted in damages to property, also took place.

A friend of mine who is a police officer also told me that, on the 30th, there was another accident involving a State vehicle (a truck), on the coastal municipality of San Antonio del Sur. I was not informed about the number of injured, or whether there were any fatalities.

Though a great many roads, paths and streets are in poor condition in Cuba, studies on accident rates indicate that most crashes occur as a result of driver negligence. One sees drivers talking on a cell phone while steering, conversing with someone in the passenger seat, trying to get ahead of a car on the road, disregarding traffic signs and even driving drunk or with a few drinks in them.

All of these irresponsible attitudes result in significant material losses, for both the State and individual drivers. The worst and most important repercussion, however, is the loss of human lives, many a time young people and children. In some cases, those who suffer accidents are left with health problems for life. Some are left with temporary and even permanent disabilities.

That is why I believe that, at the risk of continuing to come across as the villans (many a time they actually are), the motorized traffic police should continue to rigorously enforce road safety regulations, even if that means applying fines on violators and irresponsible drivers, who do not exercise due care and forget about the huge social responsibility they shoulder while behind the wheel.