HAVANA TIMES — “I’m 68 years old and it’s all the same to me. Our people need respect,” these were the opening words of one of my neighbor’s complaints, voiced during the official accountability meeting with our local representative.
It was an apt preamble for what came next. “The prices at the farm products market, which is now a cooperative, are prohibitive, and one finds rotten produce in the garbage. They would rather throw it away than lower prices,” said the angered woman.
The self-employed, however, aren’t the only problem. My neighbor spoke of the difficulty of finding personal hygiene items saying, “you have to go look for hygiene products in different neighborhoods, because the place you find soap doesn’t have toothpaste, and so on and so forth.”
Steam was shooting out of the woman’s ears when she stressed that “the newspaper Tribuna de la Habana is saying personal hygiene products are being distributed in a normal and timely fashion,” yelling they only write “lies and more lies.”
To conclude, she reported that Public Health authorities “closed down a dental clinic in the neighborhood and are already dismantling it without consulting with anyone,” adding that 3 doctors had told her “they didn’t even let them say a word.”
The municipal representative replied that the clinic was closed down as part of the rationalization of resources undertaken by the Ministry of Public Health, but the woman insisted the authorities were taking measures that affected people without consulting with them.
She was so unimpressed with the responses she got from the representative that she ended up saying: “This is quite possibly the last balance meeting I attend,” in the understanding that discussing anything there was of no use.
Others complained about public street cleaning services, the epidemic seedbeds afforded by the excrement that is periodically left on the street or the inefficiency of State ration stores, which open when they please.
That’s what my neighborhood looks like these days
Paying attention to what is being said at meetings like this one is a good way of getting a sense of how the country is faring and of the ills that are affecting people: the price of food, the shortage of crucial items and cutbacks in social programs.
Only 28 of the hundred neighbors invited participated in the meeting. Not even all of the families were represented there and, judging from what some said, there’ll be less people next time.
Such a lack of interest is the natural outcome of many years of minimal results and unanswered questions. In theory, Poder Popular (“People’s Power”) representatives, elected at neighborhood level, are the highest local authority.
It is the political and administrative structure closest to the population and ought to work as a double-pulley system, in order to address the community’s daily problems and convey government decisions to voters.
In practice, with few honorable exceptions, they have no administrative power or abilities. Any public official, administrative leader or simple company manager has more say over the lives of community members than the delegate who represents them.
Every such feedback meeting in my neighborhood, is an opportunity for the municipal representative (who is yet another member of the community) to excuse himself saying he took all of the steps he was tasked with but met with very limited results.
Then, he is again bombarded with complaints, takes down the same old demands and some new ones and prepares to take them all up again in his free time, because these delegates are neither professional politicians nor salaried employees – they have to work like everybody else.
The cycle repeats itself each year, with less people at the meetings. Of course, this may be happening only in my neighborhood and it could well be smooth sailing in the rest of the country, as the Cuban TV news continues to announce.
(*) Visit the blog of Fernando Ravsberg.