Havana: A City of Invisible Nags

Text and Photos by Ernesto Perez Chang

HAVANA TIMES — Located in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, Reparto Electrico is one of Havana’s many commuter suburbs. Most of its residents earn very low incomes and must travel many miles to get their places of work.

Public transportation services are very limited there, and neighborhood residents rely on horse-driven carriages to get to the bus-stop. If they didn’t hop on one of these caravans, they would have to walk long distances and arrive at their destinations even more tired than usual.

There are those, however, who can’t afford to pay the 2 pesos for the ride, torn by a real dilemma in which they end up choosing a cup of coffee (their only breakfast) over the lift.

People grumble about the cost of the service but ultimately give in, being in far too much of a hurry. It would be much worse to wait pointlessly at a local bus stop. Jobs are few and far between and not many can run the risk of a pay cut or getting fired these days, when it’s “every man/woman for him/herself.”

Well before the roosters begin to crow or the old Soviet alarm clocks begin to reverberate in the neighborhood’s buildings, the sound of trotting hooves and whips, piercing the exhaustion of the day before, awaken those who cannot afford deep sleep, much less haggling or complaining in protest.

Around twenty horse drawn carts improvised out of wooden planks, rusted bars and old pieces of canvas give the finishing touches this far-off corner of the city that recalls an 18th century shantytown.

Crestfallen, tired, scrawny and devoid of any chances to impress their onlookers, the horses draw the coaches, advancing down the same path, sinking their hooves into the mud and the hot asphalt, under the sun and torrential rains of the summer or winter.

The beating of hooves on the ground marks the time for the inhabitants of the suburbs. The reek of urine, boiled by the midday sun, and the dung and flies near garbage dumps season all departures and arrivals at these places, where one only hears talk of lost battles and of daily survival.

People pile in next to each other, sometimes without saying a word, consumed, perhaps, by a relentless hopelessness similar to that of the nags that pull the caravans out of habit, having become adapted to their task. These are the people who set out to overcome their basic problems and who return late at night, defeated.

These are the crowds who burden the impotent beasts with their exhaustion and who drag the weight of drudgery, closed doors, bonds and frustration.

Even though they move about at all hours, no one pays the ramshackle passenger carts close attention. Loaded with weary people, they lose themselves in the deplorable state of the beasts and the surroundings. No one knows who is pulling who, for this is a city of invisible nags.


9 thoughts on “Havana: A City of Invisible Nags

  • July 3, 2014 at 6:31 am
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    When all else fails, blame the embargo, is that it? When the Castros went begging to their Soviet masters and received billions in rubles, they opted to redirect resources to misadventures in destabilizing governments in Africa and Latin America as opposed to investing in industry and infrastructure. Even now, as the Castros continue to nurse at the Venezuelan teat, their priority is a large military instead of improving transportation resources. Honduras and Haiti have made their mistakes as well, but this site is about Cuba.

  • July 2, 2014 at 2:44 pm
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    No. What satisfies me is challenging the absurd but effective practice of venues like HT of examining in detail every negative aspect of life, no matter how universal, and attributing it to the Cuban government . And self inflicted you say ? Aiy, my mistake, asere. I forgot that it is Honduras and Haiti that have had a 50 years of embargo/blockade imposed on them, not Cuba.

  • July 2, 2014 at 11:54 am
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    Why is it that socialists seek to make the world a ‘fairer’ place by making everyone poor. My wife works hard and deserves to drive to work any way she pleases. Those day laborers along the side of the road have not travelled the path she has travelled to prepare themselves for the world of work today. As long as she works to ensure that these men have the same chance to succeed as she had, she has done what she must for them. The rest is up to them. My wife does not have nightmares about her “coche caballo” experiences either. But she prefers her ‘Benz. Is that a bad thing?

  • July 2, 2014 at 8:22 am
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    Does it satisfy you to defend the failure of the Castro revolution by suggesting there are worse places on the planet. Is that how we measure success? By pointing out worse failures? Cuba’s reality is largely self-inflicted and should be addressed independent of what is going on in Honduras or Haiti.

  • July 2, 2014 at 7:58 am
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    Now your wife sits alone, comfortably ensconced in her German built Mercedes, belching carbon into the world’s atmosphere that can hold no more, talking on her bluetooth while she cruises past the Mexican day laborers standing along the road …. Sounds like a sustainable and fair plan for every inhabitant of the planet. My wife rode those coches too. For many years. Funny, but she doesn’t have any nightmares about it.

  • July 2, 2014 at 7:47 am
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    Carlyle. You obviously don’t support your kids by taking a bus and working at Walmart, moving from one eviction to the next, or living out of your car. Nor apparently have you ever been to the counrtyside in Central America. Why else would you attribute living a “dreary existence” to socialism when it exists everywhere, and even in more virulent froms, from Indonesia to Spain to Egypt and it is the fate of billions of people who have never heard of Cuba.

  • June 30, 2014 at 6:07 pm
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    These poor horses are treated horribly by some of their “cocheros,” often time struck with chains in order to pick up the pace. It’s heartbreaking.

  • June 27, 2014 at 1:42 pm
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    A wonderful description of the reality of not only Reparto Electrico but of other cities, towns and suburbs in Cuba. This article accurately describes the culmination of fifty five years of Castro ‘Socialismo’. To deny it as such could only reflect ignorance of how Cubans live such a dreary existence day by day.

  • June 27, 2014 at 8:06 am
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    I challenge those commenters from the extreme left to read this wonderfully written post and qualify these horse-drawn carriages as charming or romantic. My wife remembers these carriages from her youth during the Special Period. They exist out of necessity and if you offered every one of the commuters riding these carriages in their morning and afternoon commutes, an opportunity to own their own car, they would take it in a heartbeat.

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