This past October I had to renew my driver’s license. Each town on the island has a designated place where that process is carried out, and I was assigned to take my written exam and then my actual driving test in Guanabacoa (an outlying town located just east of Havana).
For that same reason, some twelve years ago I had to go to that same place three times, and I nearly had to go a fourth. The problem was that no matter how early I got up to go there, the lines were always endless. There were people who would sleep there to get places in the queue for others. It had even gotten to the point where you had to pay people for a place in line. The whole operation had been taken over by the most adept and powerful.
This August it dawned on me that within a short time I’d be forced to return to that god-awful place. It made me sick to my stomach just thinking about having to go back. I couldn’t get out of my mind how much aggravation I’d gone through to get my motorcycle license there.
Nevertheless, since I’d been assigned the vehicle at work, I wouldn’t be allowed to drive it unless I had my driver’s license in hand. The position of my boss was correct, what was wrong was the torment I’d have to go through, because I didn’t have any contacts at that place and much less the money to pay off somebody to give me a place in line or get approval without taking the test. Fortunately, on the third try — and against all odds — I managed to succeed.
Finally, on the last day of October, Monday the 31st, I pumped myself up and set out from home determined to face the task of renewing my license. I knew that if I didn’t, I would lose what I had gained after so much sacrifice.
They had already told me to bring two passport-sized photos and 15 Cuban pesos worth of stamps for each category. Armed with all that, and still hell bent on getting my license, I walked on in to that abominable place.
But this time I met with such a surprise that even today it still seems unbelievable. There were very few people there, so few that my first thought was that they weren’t open for business.
I asked a man who was at the entrance if they were open and where I’d have to go for my renewal. He immediately told me to go to the end of the line, but this time there were only two people in front of me. They each presented their papers and were told to wait a few minutes. Then it was my turn and I did the same thing.
Every step I took seemed unusual. It couldn’t be true, or maybe I wasn’t in Cuba.
Not even ten minutes passed before I was called to pick up my still-warm laminated driver’s license. I was so amazed that I couldn’t leave without talking to one of the police officers who was attending to us.
I told him that all of this seemed like a dream, given the promptness and efficiency I’d received. I explained my prior aversion to that place because of everything that had happened in previous years and told him that this was a widely held opinion.
He then told me, “We’re working to erase that perception among the public. The service we provide must be one of quality and must live up to what people deserve.”
I could only reply, “I wish we had the good luck of being treated the same way in all offices.”
Unfortunately, what I found there is totally atypical. In fact, if I had to describe it, I would say that it was the biggest surprise of the year. I can’t recall any other instances of good treatment, efficiency or quality service, and much less civility, respect, courtesy and manners toward and from Cubans.