Public Transport in Cuba: New Plans, Old Executors

By Fernando Ravsberg

Organizing private transport is essential in order to create a functional system. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES – New measures approved to regulate the work of private transport drivers (collective taxis and passenger trucks) seem essential, and what’s more they should have been applied from the very beginning and not years after private participation in this public service had been authorized.

Fare prices, routes, frequency, fuel at wholesale prices and the sale of spare parts, are basic and normal measures that need to be established in order to organize a public transport system anywhere in the world.

However, the population’s reaction to this has been unfavorable, you just have to read comments on the official website Cubadebate: “I’m already tired of so many experiments, ” Juan Lopez says and Alberto asks, “can somebody tell me how many years we’ve been carrying out experiments now?”

Somebody else, under the pen-name Cadillac, reminds us that they had promised to spend huge profits made from selling cars on buying buses. Nothing was ever said again about the subject in spite of Kia Picantos still being sold second-hand for US $30,000.

In Cuba, transport has never been sufficient, due to poor organization or a lack of resources. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

The root of the problem doesn’t lie in the measures that are taken but in those who are taking them. The Transport Ministry has made so many promises and it has fulfilled very few of them, that is if it has fulfilled any, and it has lost its credibility among the Cuban people along the way.

No matter what they promise, very few people believe that an initiative from this institution will fix the problem. Many people even fear that new measures will cause greater problems with public transport, like what happened during the last arm-wrestle with the boteros (private collective taxi drivers).

The same thing has happened with those who lead agriculture, who present new plans every year but, at the end of the day, when tomatoes aren’t rotting, they are losing fruit harvests or they forget about tons of beans in warehouses.

Profits earned from selling new or used cars – a Peugeot at 265,000 USD – was going to be used for public transport but nobody has ever accounted for this. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Of course, Cubans also criticize other ministries but no other ministry has such a bad reputation. Achievements made by the Ministry of Health, Education, Culture, MINFAR, Foreign Trade, Domestic Affairs, Communications, etc. are always recognized.

You only need to remember the fact that, during the economic crisis in the ’90s, Public Health didn’t close down a single hospital and the Education Ministry didn’t close a single class. They were extremely hard times but they multiplied loaves and fishes, there were medicine and pencil shortages but there was never a shortage of doctors and teachers, even if they were just starting out.

The Cuban people even recognize those who lead the economy for negotiating one of the best foreign debt deals they could hope for, extending commercial ties between Cuba and the world and doing magic with the State’s miserly budget.

However, if we were to ask ourselves about the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Transport’s achievements in recent decades, it would be very hard for us to name even one. In spite of them being the largest producers of “future projects”, the kind that will resolve all of our problems “now”.

Transport directors weren’t able to explain to me why they ordered US motors to be put into buses bought in China, knowing that after they wouldn’t be able to buy spare parts because of the blockade. They did, however, promise that they would think about that “in the future”.

Creating a wholesale market for private workers who transport passengers is one of the keys in this issue. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Not to mention the decision of handing out idle land to farmers but banning them from building a house on them. Agriculture officials needed two years to understand that farmers can’t live in the city and work in the countryside.

What confidence can the Cuban people have in a farming bureaucracy that loses 57% of what guajiros harvest, forcing the State to spend $2 billion USD every year on buying food products which they let rot in fields and collection centers?.

Just imagine the eyes that would roll if the FAR (Armed Forces) were to lose 57% of their weapons, if Public Health let 57% of their patients die or if 57% of students were to fail in Education. However, farming bureaucracy seems to enjoy total immunity.

In politics, credibility is all-important. When citizens believe an institution is incapable of leading them, people apply the principle of “order whatever you want and I’ll do whatever I want”, because, like author Jose Saramago once said, “needs also legislate”.

With transport drivers and passengers in this kind of spirit, not even the best project in the world would catch on. Their inefficiency has been so great and gone on for so long that if the Cuban people were consulted in a referendum, these ministries would have been “frozen” a long time before self-employment was.

In spite of what the country invests, there continues to be a shortfall in interprovincial transport. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz



5 thoughts on “Public Transport in Cuba: New Plans, Old Executors

  • The answer to the question you pose in your first sentence Moses, is simple that the Castro regime has faithfully kept to Marx/Leninist theories. China and Vietnam abandoned them.
    The Communist Party of Cuba established the Department of Propaganda to promote amongst other follies, the concept that Fidel Castro could do no wrong and was a world authority upon anything to which he gave attention. As censorship prevented Cubans from accessing information, some of them actually believed the nonsense.

  • Active incompetence? I have never heard of the that term before but I love it. It’s like “willful ignorance”.

  • The embargo! The Blockade! The Embargo! The blockade. The parrots would says. Fidel was a maquiavelic person a genius in how to oppress the masses smart enough to destroy a country and somes people usually commentators is this site defend him as hero. That is talent. Puro talento.

  • Fernando Ravsberg has put his finger very firmly upon a major root cause of Cuba’s economic woes. Agriculture in Cuba is in an incredible mess. The regime’s inevitable response has been to put a bunch of military generals in charge, to produce a succession of pie-in-the-sky plans, all of which have been miserable failures. Hundreds of thousands of acres of good agricultural land have reverted to bush. A few pathetic scrub cattle wander aimlessly around and former rice paddies leak the required water,
    Public transport slowly deteriorates as the ancient converted trucks, ‘camels’, cars and jeeps enter their seventh decade. Although Cubans have managed through skill and ingenuity to maintain those aging vehicles, the deterioration is demonstrated by blue smoke from exhausts and collapsing springs (see first photograph above of a typical Lada).
    Further regulation will do naught to improve matters, but only serve to give yet more problems to the owner/drivers. As they trundle on their way, they will continue to be subjected to State Police stopping them without due cause and at those silly checkpoints on the Autopista, with yet more documents to be inspected.
    No wonder that the people of Cuba grow weary.

  • It is really a mystery as to why agriculture in Cuba is such an abject failure. Given the temperate climate, rich soil and normally adequate rainfall, one would think that anything would grow. Given the availability of open space and abundant natural grasses, animal husbandry should be a breeze. Finally, Cuba is an island in the middle of the friggin’ Caribbean. Seafood should not be a problem. Yet, Cuba can’t seem to grow adequate crops, raise livestock (not even chickens) or develop a fishing industry. Tell me again why people think Fidel was so smart?

Comments are closed.