Do We Have to Wait for the Government to Sell the Peugeot 508s to
Improve Public Transport? / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 18 February 2017 — Seven in the morning at the bus stop at
Acosta Avenue and Poey Street, in the dense La Vibora neighborhood in
southern Havana. Almost a hundred people are waiting for the No. 174 bus
While waiting for the bus, some take the opportunity to have a coffee
from the roving coffee-seller. Others breakfast on bread with croquette
or an egg sandwich from a private cantina, continually looking at the
bus stop, in case a ‘guagua’ (bus) shows up.
Also at Acosta and Poey, some 40 people are in a line waiting for their
turn to catch a shared-taxi to Vedado. Jaime, a maintenance worker in a
polyclinic, can’t give himself the luxury of taking taxis.
“In the morning the taxi driver charges twenty “reeds” (Cuban pesos,
CUP) to Vedado. Since I work in Playa, I have to take a second taxi for
another 20 pesos. The return is the same. Eighty ‘coconuts’ to come and
go from work, and I only get paid 20 a day. If I take a taxi I can make
the trip in an hour, and if I wait for the bus, it’s three hours coming
and going. Many documentaries, books and recorded chats about the life
and work of Fidel Castro, but the government spent 60 years without
being able to solve the transport problem. This is crap, brother,” says
Jaime, notably angry.
If you want to meet a Cuban ruminating on the horrors of Castroism,
visit him at home during a blackout, or ask him about the supposed
benefits of socialism at the bus stop crammed with people.
At best, he relaxes at a popular pachanga (party) with some cheap beer
and infamous rum, with reggaeton or aggressive timba in the background.
But when it comes from moving from one place to other in Havana, they
put on a whole other face.
Like Mireya’s face right now. She’s a kitchen helper at a school. “Oh
mother. I leave at 6:30 in the morning to catch a bus. And at 8:00 I’m
still at the stop. And when you do manage to get on, you have to keep
your wits about you because at least opportunity the pickpockets will
lift your wallet. And don’t even talk about the perverts. They shove
themselves up against your ‘package’ from behind like you’re their wife.
The other day some shameless guy was so hot he took it out and
masturbated in plain sight,” said Mireya, talking openly to everyone
The lines at the butcher shop to buy “chicken for fish,” or to do legal
paperwork, or to wait for public transport, have become a kind of
people’s plaza where a journalist, politician or specialist in social
topics could take the pulse of a nation. Two years ago, the president of
Finland disguised himself as a taxi driver to learn his compatriot’s
opinions about his management of the state. That would be a good example
for the Cuban authorities to follow.
Managing efficient public transport, be it land, air, rail or sea, is
something the olive green junta that governs Cuban can’t get done.
Fidel Castro, today feted for his extensive anti-imperialist discourse
and his role in the decolonization struggle of Africa, was never able to
design a working transportation system for the island.
Havana, with its million and a half inhabitants, and a million foreign
tourists and illegal visitors from other provinces, probably features
among the worst cities of the world to get from one place or another
quickly and cheaply.
In the 1960s, Fidel Castro acquired three thousand Leyland buses in
Great Britain for urban and interprovincial transport. But it wasn’t
like that. In the following decades, they were bought in Spain, Japan,
Hungary, Brazil and China.
In Havana it has always been an odyssey to travel by bus. At its best,
there were more than 100 bus routes in the capital and 2,500 buses plus
a fleet of 4,000 taxis, bought from the Argentina military dictatorship,
although they never finished paying for them.
With the coming of the Special Period in 1990, the closest thing to a
war without bombs, public transport experienced its real death throes.
The “camels” — a monster patented by some sadistic engineer — were
container trailers outfitted with seats and pulled by a semi-truck
tractor unit that could carry 300 people each, packed like sardines in a
Havanans still remember the memorable brawls inside the “camels,” worthy
of an Olympic boxing match. Those steel boxes were saunas in the
tropical heat and according to street legends they served to procreate
dozens of kids of unknown fathers.
If every Cuban state official had to pay a penny for every revealed lie,
believe me, there would be a legion of new rich on the island. Many
thought it was a bad joke, but in 2014, the government, in complete
seriousness, after authorizing the sale of Peugeots at Ferrari prices,
announced that they were going to use the profits to create a fund to
buy buses to improve urban transport.
Three years later not a single Peugeot 508 has been sold. Logically, you
don’t have to have a Nobel in economics to know that no one is going to
pay the equivalent of 300,000 dollars for a touring car. And in cash.
Thus, ordinary Cubans like the worker Jaime and the cook Mireya, are
still waiting two hours to board a city bus. Until all those lovely
Peugeots are sold.
Source: Do We Have to Wait for the Government to Sell the Peugeot 508s
to Improve Public Transport? / Iván García – Translating Cuba –