Cuban Public Transportation: Making Theft Legal

Rogelio M. Díaz Moreno

Foto: Benjamin Bruce

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban transportation authorities have been giving us plenty to talk about these days. Denying Cuban non-travelers access to certain areas of the Jose Marti International Airport was a true scandal until the illegal measure was finally repealed. The matter has another side to it, however, enveloped by our government’s familiar secrecy.

The independent digital bulletin Desde la Ceiba has published two comments on the issue, one by Jorge C. Oliva Espinosa and someone who signs off as “Sempronio el de Regla.” In addition to echoing the news about the reestablishment of public access to these spaces, they reveal other spicy details that Cuba’s official press has forgotten to mention.

It seems that, during the much-publicized remodeling of the airport, far from insignificant sums of money were embezzled. According to unidentified sources, several officials, investors, economists and even an army general have been implicated by an audit that brought the fraud to light. Some of those implicated were allegedly detained and removed by the police and the general is under house arrest.

This brings to mind other scandals that have surrounded Cuba’s Civil Aeronautics Institute, such as the irregular rental of planes by Cubana de Aviacion. The revenues secured through the rental of these aircraft went to the private pockets of the higher-ups involved. As in this most recent case, a high-ranking general was implicated in that crime.

Now, in connection with a far more “earthly” form of transportation, the citizens of the suffering city of Havana are facing another diabolical scheme. The latter has to do with public transportation and its administrator’s proven inability to manage services and revenues. The new maneuver has Machiavellian overtones and entails the most bare-faced lack of ethics imaginable. It is a way of validating the theft of money from passengers by drivers, of making the practice “legal.”

We should recall that several fare-collection mechanisms have existed in Cuba over time – none, to be sure, resembling those applied in the modern world. Fares have always been paid in cash, using fare-boxes or fare-collectors. Yesterday’s collectors, to the dismay of authorities, pocketed part of the fares. When these were replaced by fare-boxes, some passengers didn’t pay.

The new maneuver is explained in detail in Havana’s newspaper Tribuna de la Habana. It consists in making the driver and assistants deposit the sum the bus is expected to collect before setting out with their buses. Then, they are entitled to keep all the money they collect along the way. The price of the fare is 40 cents, and drivers have the authority to give passengers who pay more change, but not the obligation.

Imagine you buy an avocado that costs, say, 6 pesos, and you pay with a 10-peso note. Then imagine the vendor taking out a government resolution that authorizes him to keep your change. Well, it’s the same thing.

Getting one’s hand on the 20-cent coins, or pesetas, in order to pay the fare with exact change, involves long, tedious lines at the bank, open only during working hours. Many people used 1-peso coins or bills to pay for the blessed fare, and had to work some kind of trick to get back part of the money from the driver or other passengers. Frequently, they simply didn’t pay the fare. Thanks to public transport officials, now drivers have to pay out of their own pockets, and must now set their sights on passengers to get it back. And, unless they are suddenly inclined to act like good Samaritans, they have carte blanche to keep the change whenever anyone does not have the 20 cents to pay for the fare. It’s what’s been authorized and established, and that’s that.

We can expect no few conflicts to be sparked off by this. The intransigence and interests of a lot of drivers will meet with the anger of passengers, who rightly feel cheated by the new system. Paying one’s fare is an obligation, we can all agree on that, but the change is the property of the passenger and no one has the right to keep it. The new public transportation regulation seeks to legalize theft, and the resolution does not conceal its glaring lack of ethics. Transportation officials have opened up yet another Pandora’s box with their shamelessness and lack of scruples. It remains to be seen what will come out of it.

2 thoughts on “Cuban Public Transportation: Making Theft Legal

  • Pre-paid tickets from approved shops, and inspectors randomly checking tickets, is the only way to go; that’s what Russia did during the Soviet era. It works. Better still, electronic ticket machines…

  • If officials, investors, economists and even army generals cheat, why the surprise when people lower down the food chain devise their own schemes? The actual passengers, who are often just getting by on a daily basis have a right to expect change. If someone is going go steal 80 centavos out of their hard-earned peso why shouldn’t they avoid depositing a fare? Some house cleaning is long overdue; starting at the top.

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