HAVANA TIMES, March 8 — Since the beginning of year, the inhabitants of Guantanamo and other Cuban provinces have been facing a new problem in our daily lives: fare increases for private transportation.
The law of supply and demand has been allowed to exert itself. The government and pertinent authorities have ceased intervening on behalf of the public; they begun permitting transportation providers to charge whatever they wish.
This law began to be applied in Guantanamo at the beginning of January, after which time one didn’t have to wait long to start hearing protests from the population.
These were reflected in the streets as well as in the local media. But while radio and television stations have broadcast several reports on the issue — featuring people who have been affected and demonstrating the difficulties created by the fare increases — so far nothing has changed.
Since the horse-drawn wagon is one of the forms of transportation most used in Guantanamo, this has received much of the criticism from workers and students. These individuals are seriously affected in their pockets every time they have to pay two pesos for the same ride that used to cost a single peso.
People who have to catch two or more wagons daily to go to and from work or school are now forced to look for alternative means or simply walk. However, the residents on the south side of the city don’t have many choices; they’re forced to fork out the two pesos and subject themselves to an economic law that the majority of us consider arbitrary and unjust, especially those with lower incomes.
Although we Guantanamo residents have expressed our dissatisfaction in different ways, a solution has not been found to a problem that has become worrisome because of its constant daily impact.
During the recent one week of school break, I had to take my two small children to work with me because I didn’t have anyone who could watch them. Due to the lack of local buses or vans that still charge one peso for trips within the city, I had to go to one of the wagon depots. Though these days they are void of riders, they have long lines of drivers anxious for passengers, who now think twice before taking one.
We quickly make ourselves comfortable in our seats. I wanted to ride with my youngest girl on my lap so I would save a couple pesos, but she wriggled away so that she would have her own seat.
The driver, noticing this mother-daughter dispute, said to me: “Sit by yourself, that way you’ll be more comfortable too.”
To which I replied: “It depends on how you look at comfort. “I’ll be more comfortable in the seat, but my pocket won’t.” The driver immediately understood my meaning, and I think my fellow passengers did too, since some of them smiled.
“Don’t worry, have a seat. I won’t charge you two pesos for her,” the driver said smiling. Finally I gave in fidgeting my youngest girl.
The driver’s decision triggered a discussion among the passengers, who took advantage of the situation to complain that charging two pesos was almost literally highway robbery, though they didn’t blame the drivers; on the contrary, they understood their position.
I don’t know if I truly understand them, though I assure them that I try to. But as much as I think about them as self-employed workers trying to survive in a country full of regulations that no one understands and few people approve, when I think about my pocket, one thought enters my mind: With my miserable wages, these new fare increases will only allow us to afford that much less.
When I got out of the wagon, I gave the owner ten pesos and he returned me eight. Just to be sure I wasn’t wrong, I told him: “You made a mistake. You gave me four pesos too much.”
But he responded, “No, I didn’t make any mistake. Like I said, I didn’t charge you for the girls. I’m on this side, but I have to put myself in your place. I know full well that it’s not easy. I’d love to give everyone a ride for free, but I can’t. Everybody needs money to survive, but this is the only way I have to survive myself.”
All I could do was thank him. I promised myself that in the future I’d try to put myself in other people’s shoes. In that way perhaps I’ll be able to understand the position of these drivers… but as far as the two pesos, I don’t know if I’ll succeed at ever understanding that.