HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 24 — Transportation between Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo is good thanks to trucks and individually-owned vans. Those vehicles allow hundreds of passengers to move daily between the two provincial capitals.
Half joking, I always tell one colleague of mine that I’d get to my job earlier if I worked in Santiago de Cuba because it’s easier to go all the way to that city than to get around Guantanamo.
A few days ago I had to go to Santiago for one of those unforeseen situations that catch you without a dime and that are a little upsetting.
The trip there was easy enough. I was lucky to get to the provincial terminal at the time a Yutong bus was about to head to my destination. It was strange, but there were few people on the waiting list, so I was able to get on with little difficulty.
Well, let me correct that. It’s not that it’s strange. In fact most people prefer to travel uncomfortably, standing in a flatbed truck packed with people, but paying only 5 pesos. To them that’s preferable to having to fork up 18 pesos to go in a comfortable Yutong.
I always protest to friends and strangers about the price of inter-provincial trips. With those prices, you can only travel when there’s an emergency or if you have a high salary. People with lower incomes can’t afford to pay 75 pesos to go to Camaguey, and much less 175 to visit the Havana.
Protestor by nature
But my friends say that I complain about everything, that I’m never quiet, that I am always demanding rights that people don’t even know they have.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe I am a protestor by nature, but I believe that we have gotten used to not defending ourselves. We accept vendors robbing us of ounces and even pounds when buying the staples we’re entitled to out of our ration book or when we go to the market. We’ll say to ourselves that the vendors are “hustling” and that sellers in the market are swindlers, but just the same, we don’t say anything.
We also remain silent when we go to a restaurant and pay for a dish whose price doesn’t end up relating to the quality.
As a defender of my rights, my first protest on the bus was raised when I asked about the bathroom, to which the driver responded saying that the bus didn’t have one. “What do you mean there’s no bathroom?” I questioned. “At these prices you should be serving lunch,” I added, as some people laughed along with the comment and others nodded in agreement. One 50-year-old man just looked at me with a serious expression.
The driver responded that it wasn’t his fault that short trips didn’t include those services.
Later I kicked up another fuss because the driver stopped on four occasions: the first time to pick up a package at a house off the highway, the second to buy some vegetables (several travelers also took advantage of that stop and bought things); the third to greet a friend in a truck going the other way, but their talking went on for several minutes; and finally to pick up another package.
“Why do you protest so much?” asked the now pruned-face 50-year-old man, who continued to listen intently.
“I’m not protesting. I’m defending my right to quality service, to be respected as a customer, to demand the conditions that I paid for as a passenger. I live in a free country and I’m entitled to defend my ideas!” I responded.
What rights are you talking about,” he replied bitterly. “What rights are you talking about in a country where a person with 20 years of work experience can find themself jobless in the street?”
I couldn’t say anything else, the man left me speechless, or —better said— without rights…