By Alberto N Jones
HAVANA TIMES — Controversy has arisen resulting from an article written by Fernando Ravsberg about the confrontation between the government in Havana and private taxi drivers, and it provoked the anticipated response from opportunists and upstarts, who are always ready to address the issue at hand and kill the messenger and not the message.
I don’t personally know Fernando Ravsberg, but I know that he is intellectually capable of defending himself against despicable and diversionist actions by “columnists” who can’t face the truth or put forward rational and logical solutions for the ills our country is suffering.
My stay in Havana on Friday and Saturday Feb. 10-11 coincided with the events he describes which paralyzed the city and created unprecedented chaos. The dreadful sight of seeing tens of thousands of people desperate to get home, to go to school, medical centers or work, holding children in their arms and old people forced to wait for hours for a driver who took pity on them and decided to pick them up, was unparalleled in Cuba’s recent history.
While hundreds of empty cars or just with one passenger passed quickly without stopping, symbolizing their rejection of a local government’s ridiculous decision to try and “fix” something that wasn’t broken, desperate people were left stranded, without a way to get where they needed to go and without an explanation.
All of us can agree that it would be better if the 10 peso collective taxi drivers charged less, but in the face of no other alternatives and ways to fix the situation, why irritate and dismantle a service which transports hundreds of thousands of people, something the urban bus service has been unable to do efficiently for decades and without having a solution in hand?
However, the hypocrisy of the situation is greater when government media argue that the reason behind this decision was to protect customers, the same customers who are forced to pay 20 pesos for a pound of red beans, 15 for a pineapple, 4 for a bulb of garlic or 1 for a small banana the size of your finger.
Meanwhile, it’s those insignificant people who remain closed off on their thrones and disassociated from people’s work, trying to justify the unjustifiable in vain and without saying a single word about the hundreds of millions of productive hours Cubans lose everyday while waiting on the curbs of streets and highways looking for a ride, queuing up or crowded together at a health center, which have been unable to give people an appointment time so that they can do what they have to.
While the most important thing in the rest of the world is making the most out of working, studying or leisure hours, by widespread usage of technology and systems which speed up tasks, here in Cuba, public administration doesn’t seem to value or respect other people’s time or what these huge, unnecessary and annoying losses of time cost the State.
An uncountable number of government offices throughout the country are known for the lines that define their services and nobody cares about creating new offices, extending public hours, handing out forms beforehand so that people could fill them out at home and return them completed or allowing private complementary services to be created which would speed up the same processes, rather than turning old collective taxis into a life or death tragedy.
However, this entire conflict becomes even more ridiculous and unfounded when dozens of people who have shown their solidarity to Cuba and donated and sent hundreds of school buses know that every one of these vehicles was bought for 3-5,000 USD, depending on their size, year of manufacture and use.
With this experience, the chronic national public transport disaster could be remedied once and for all if the government made a serious effort to import the needed amount of buses and then sell them to private bus drivers. It could also authorize diesel to be sold at a reasonable price to these transportation providers likewise with spare parts, instead of having to rely on the black market as they do today. Thisi would cut out on converted trucks being used as public transport, which cause countless kidney, joint and other kinds of health problems.
However, it would still be better to purchase, sell or rent eco-friendly, non-polluting electric transport vehicles, which would immediately get rid of the respiratory problems faced by passengers, pedestrians and residents of streets with a high number of private taxis with smoking fuel oil motors, which keep hospital emergency wards full with patients trying to breathe.
Whims, stubborness or looking for scapegoats will not resolve these problems. Only impartial analyses, without prejudice or impositions can resolve the lack of transport, food, personal hygiene products, clothes, medicine or other items which have plagued Cuba for half a century, because of the government’s insistence on applying the same mechanisms while expecting different results.