Cuba: Gov. & Private Taxi Drivers Flex Muscles

February 16, 2017 | Print Print |

Ordinary citizens caught in the middle

By Fernando Ravsberg

Collective taxi in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — There is a test of strength going on these days between government authorities and collective taxi drivers in Havana. The government wants to put a certain order into effect and this has provoked a silent strike, without posters or speeches but which is very effective, according to what you see on the street.

“I was waiting for a car in (the neighborhood) of Vibora for two hours and couldn’t get a single one to take me. Every time the government pulls out a new resolution against private taxi drivers, it’s us Cubans who don’t have a car who pay the price,” an annoyed worker told me.

The local Havana government has just established itineraries and prices for private drivers, most of whom drive old cars from the 1950s, which have modern diesel engines put in, since that is the cheapest fuel on the black market.

A few months ago, they were ordered to lower their prices. The private drivers’ response was to cut their routes by half so they were still making the same amount of money. Passengers were the ones who were affected by this measure, forced to change taxis half-way through their journey.

Now, the government has given them a new price and route so as to prevent them from dodging this measure and are urging citizens to report drivers who violate this order, who can then be fined, lose their license or even run the risk of having their car confiscated.

The Cuban Ministry of Transport has proven its incapacity to resolve the problem of public transport for more than half a decade, organizing a bus network which is barely acceptable. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

The taxi drivers’ response was to start this strike, which has drastically reduced the number of vehicles on the street thereby provoking unrest among the population. Strangely enough, you can hear more people criticizing the provincial government than the drivers themselves.

And at the end of the day, people are somewhat wise because the government has proven itself to be incapable of meeting its targets and its ordinary Cubans who suffer, because private transport has become a necessity.

There are some extremists who have popped up here and there who, trying to gain political merit, call for the masses to fight against private drivers with the childish slogan “Not one step back,” as if these self-employed workers who drive us around were the root cause of the problem.

They forget, or don’t have the courage, to remember that the national crisis has lasted for over 50 years, a long time before President Raul Castro allowed more private transport to exist. The “guaguas” (buses) didn’t even meet public demands in the best of times.

When the local government and Ministry of Transport (Mitrans) opened up the “market”, they did so without placing regulations on fees, routes, timetables and fuel supply. Such regulations exist in a great number of countries that don’t have a “planned” economy.

Those who work in private transport are unable to import replacement parts, and they have to buy overpriced batteries and tires on the black market. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

However, government fanatics aren’t stupid, it’s easier to shout slogans against private taxi drivers than it is to shout out against the Mitrans, even though this institution is the one who has been planning, promising targets, using million dollar resources and failing time and time again.

The easiest thing to do is to blame the drivers for all of these problems, transforming them into the people responsible for everything that happens, just like the Right are doing in Europe and the US today with the issue of immigration. It is the age-old technique of finding a scapegoat and channeling all of the masses’ fury towards it.

I don’t mean to defend these drivers, whose prices may seem abusive given the fact that they buy all the diesel they need on the black market for 0.40 USD/ liter. Furthermore, there are different classes of drivers: there are the bosses and then are their employees.

A boss can have several cars (from 1 to even 20) and hire different drivers. They can sit at home, and pocket more than $1,000 USD every month per car while the driver will only earn around 250 USD per month, working 10 or 12 hours per day. [More than 10 times the average salary on the island].

So we can’t even talk about drivers on a general basis, or treat them equally. We have to analyze how much it costs them to keep their 60-year-old cars running, working 12 hours a day.  Plus take into account how much they spend on replacement parts, tires or batteries.

There have also been problems between local government and private transport on a provincial level, which is just as necessary as in the capital, or more so even. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

I ask myself whether there were any meetings held between private drivers and the provincial government, whether there is a coordination effort between both parties. Do the drivers receive some kind of support from government authorities to import the spare parts they need or to change motors?

The legalization of new forms of property over modes of production and services need to be followed by new relationships. Dialogue and negotiation can give better results with the self-employed, rather than the use of imposition.

The King advises The Little Prince to require “from each one the duty which each one can perform. Accepted authority rests first of all on reason. If you order your people to go and throw themselves into the sea, they will rise up in revolution. I have the right to require obedience because my orders are reasonable.”


What's your opinion?

  • N.J. Marti

    Regulations are part of market economy, but they need to be rational to enable an efficient market. The resistance to market has had perverse effect of a crazy amount of commerce that takes place outside of law in Cuba. The Government then introduces unhinged measures like these with negative effects.