Por Pedro Campos
HAVANA TIMES — A doctor friend of mine told me that ankle sprains are one of the most common accidents suffered by people in Havana.
I asked him the reason and he explained that people sprain their ankles while using slippers, sandals, low-heel (or high-heel) shoes, or while practicing field or track sports, as there is no natural human propensity for such sprains.
When I asked him whether this had anything to do with the state of the terrain, he replied that that was one of the main reasons, and that many accidents happened because people didn’t look where they were going.
His answer made quite a few things clear: the main cause of ankle sprains in Cuba is the deplorable state of many sidewalks – where there are sidewalks, as no few are the avenues where people have to walk over bare ground or jump over sections of concrete that have been lifted by tree roots or cut open during repair work that was never completed.
If Havana’s roads are in bad shape, the sidewalks where people in Havana walk and sometimes advance in leaps and bounds are a whole lot worse. Some neighborhoods (without any kind of sidewalks, sometimes) are of course worse off than others.
Many say medicine in Cuba is chiefly preventive. Jose Marti used to say that the best medicine is the one that prevents an illness.
The Ministry of Public Health isn’t responsible for fixing up the city’s sidewalks, but, since it is responsible for offering preventive medicine, it could well address the issue publicly or through the Council of Ministers, to make those responsible aware of the need to repair broken sidewalks or build new ones where there are no sidewalks.
In a country with so many public transportation problems, sidewalks are very important.
Of course, the bureaucrats that could solve this problem in this type of centralized society generally do not have to walk down any sidewalk. They don’t know, they couldn’t know, that sidewalks in neighborhoods of La Lisa, for instance, are either destroyed or non-existent. They leave home in their private or State-owned car, park at work, drive to supermarkets and carry out practically all of their social activities in their vehicle. As people think as they live, what need could they have to see the sidewalks?
Asking them to fix the city’s sidewalks to reduce the incidence of ankle sprains would be like waiting for hell to freeze over. Of course, if it was a question of fixing the avenues of the posh neighborhood of Miramar, they might be persuaded to do something.
Ultimately, why does all this happen? Why aren’t sidewalks being fixed?
The problem is that the country’s current resource allocation and control model is conceived to have the centralized state decide what to do with people’s money.
The so-called “People’s Power” Councils actually have no power to fix any of these problems. Their role is to act as intermediaries between the people and State entities. People are tired of attending the same meetings where people always say the same things. They’re no longer even saying anything at these meetings.
Cuba will have to change its current system of government for one where citizens, and not the bureaucracy, decide what to do with the resources produced by the country, and establish participative budgets at all levels. We have to go from today’s representative democracy to a type of democracy where the people wield more direct and decisive control.
The budget for the municipality of La Lisa should not be determined by a centralized power, but be put together with at least 50% of the taxes collected there. With this money, the municipal government should address the social problems faced by its different communities.
If a municipality is too poor, the national budget would then be used to assist the locals.
Those participative budgets would also demand that the people elect municipal authorities directly, and not as it is done today, through representatives.
This way, the residents of a place like San Agustin could decide to contribute a given sum and have that money invested in improving the community’s schools, fixing and painting buildings, repairing roads and building sidewalks. “We voted for so-and-so to have him/her fulfill our wishes. If he/she doesn’t, halfway through the term or at the next elections, we simply won’t vote for them.”
If my son doesn’t get a proper lunch at school, if I get lousy service at a polyclinic, if my car breaks because it hit a pot-hole, if there are problems with the water supply in my community, if I get an ankle sprain because a sidewalk is broke, I will then know who is accountable.
That would be the way to give the People’s Power real power, to establish true, participative democracy.