Patience Running Thin

Rosa Martinez

Collection point for recyclable materials.

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 24 — Throughout the entire province of Guantanamo, recently began the asambleas de rendición de cuenta (report-back assemblies) between elected delegates and their constituents.

In these, the people’s representatives must respond to questions posed by residents in each neighborhood, and they must summarize their administrative accomplishments and “justify” why any matters remain unresolved.

This process has still not begun in my area, but at this point I’m already thinking more about residents who are tired of complaining about a host of situations that have not been addressed or corrected.

One of these residents is Luis.  He is a fervent revolutionary, though he only carries a regular ID card and not one of the Cuban Communist Party.  For some time (I really don’t remember for how many years), on numerous occasions he has had plumbing problems with his second floor apartment.  He attempted to get this corrected by pursuing all of the administrative routes of the appropriate institutions, and when no action resulted he tried to understand the reasons behind the delay in any solution.  But after such a long time, who could understand it?

The State is unable to solve his simple plumbing situation because two departments within it cannot come to an agreement.  The two entities are the Water and Sewer Department on one hand, and the Housing Authority on the other.

The first is responsible for addressing problems outside the doors of housing units, while the second is in charge of conditions within each unit.  The problem is that neither of these agencies is doing anything (except finger pointing), while the victim is getting more and more upset with each passing day since he’s unable to find anyone to help.

Cafeteria in Guantanamo, Cuba

Likewise, there’s the example of Carlos Manuel, a Spanish and literature teacher.  He reported a sewer line backup in his home well before this past rainy September.  The situation worsened with the downpours, but not even the specialized unit from the Housing Authority would lend him any service.

The workers assigned to the community said that their crews, resources and transportation were insufficient to cope with the number of calls for assistance.  Though the staff received support from other provinces, it was not enough because those workers providing assistance could only spend so much time outside of their provinces.

Lastly, there’s the situation of Maria, a 55 year-old woman who has an exemplary track record serving at the core of the Communist Party.  In meetings of retired activists, she always speaks with pride of the achievements of the more than 50 years of the Revolution.  In one way or another, she will always make the point that she has been a member of the Party for more than 30 years and has never been sanctioned.

She is one of the best “cederistas” (a member of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and “federadas” (a member of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), and she herself organizes voluntary neighborhood clean-up days to improve public health conditions around us.  She has sharply criticized all aspects of corruption, graft, indolence and jineterismo (“hustling”).

I always noted the fact that though Maria has been an activist for so many years, she never raised criticisms in any assembly about poor work being carried out by our delegates.  I didn’t hear her say anything when for almost two months we were without running water on our block and had to haul it from several blocks away.

On a street of Guantanamo, Cuba

Nor did she protest when a work crew from the Water and Sewer Department left a gaping hole in the street for 20 days while they repaired a leak.  This constituted a danger not only to children but to anyone who might have accidentally fallen into it.

However, only a few weeks there were again earth tremors here in Eastern Cuba.  Though no damage was officially reported in the province, one wall collapsed in Maria’s house and another one cracked.

When she raised this with the delegate, he barely listened to her.  He told her that this year there were no resources of any type for the municipality of Guantanamo, and that she shouldn’t let herself get worked up about the problem knowing there was nothing she could do about it.

For the first time I saw Maria speak out about the poor performance of a delegate, even citing the improper use of the resources in the hands of corrupt leaders.

“How are you going to tell me that they can’t help me with any materials?” she lashed out at the delegate.  “I’ve been a Party activist for decades.”

I’m crazy to see what response our delegate will give to Luis and Carlos Manuel, as well as to Maria, an active Party member for more than 30 years who apparently will not understand his justifications either.

4 thoughts on “Patience Running Thin

  • As a Guantanamero living abroad, I wish tho thank Rosa wholeheartedly for openly discussing these critical issues that affects the life and livelyhood of thousands of people living in our province. Guantanamo unfortunately, is the least developed and possibly worst managed area in the country, which helps to foster this and other unjustifiable shortcomings of the local government and its agencies.

    The 60’s will be remembered, as the most hopeful, uplifting, energetic period in Cuba’s history, when the prevailing environment was: Basta con lo mal hecho (Enough with the wrongdoing) Constructive Critizism, where people were encouraged to call it as it is, when those most critical of ones behavior was precisely those closest to them, when denouncing wrongdoings was patriotic and not Chivateando (snitching).

    By the mid 70’s, some in leadership positions began feeling inmune to personal critique, because this openess, honesty, was portrayed as an attack on the government. The end result is what the country is experiencing today with the development of a double moral, with some not expressing their real feelings and others doing what is wrong, knowing or believing nothing will be done against their actions.

    The excessive overcentralization of most government activities, no matter how menial they could be, turned ordinary individuals placed in charge into semi-Gods, who everyone needed to see and/or obtain their blessing for something to be solved.

    That’s why some of these individuals are already obstructing, attempting to preserve their power in the new decentralization process that has begun.

    May another unforseen positive result of placing production means in the hands of workers through privatization of many work areas, be to put out of their burocratic, unproductive, harmful position, of many of these opportunists, who obstructed, stifled or killed many of the people’s needs, demand and sense of belonging.

  • I agree with Robert, although elections should be instituted in stages relative to the organizational capacity, level of corruption and other important factors. The first to switch to an electoral process should be municipal authorities responsible. Even China has municipal elections. But if they initiate universal elections for all positions, it could lead to instability, especially if the government lacks predictable institutions to prevent electoral corruption.

    However, for these municipal authorities, there’s really no reason for them not to be elective.

  • No date has been given yet by the Cuban Baseball Federation for the beginning of the 2010-2011 season. However, this should be forthcoming and we will immediately post the dates.

  • If the elected officials could be voted out of office, then they would feel motivated to do the jobs that they are supposed to do. Incompetent, corrupt or lazy-office holders would soon be replaced. Report-back assemblies are a poor replacement for honest elections. This is true at all levels of government. The solution to this systemic problem is to hold real elections, let the people vote for candidates who will do competent, honest work.

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