HAVANA TIMES — Yesterday afternoon, I caught an inter-municipal bus outside the Agostinho Neto Provincial Hospital in Guantanamo. The bus was headed for the provincial terminal.
Before getting on, those who had been anxiously waiting for the bus to arrive asked the driver how much the fare was.
“Two pesos,” he said. “You all know that inter-municipal fares are now two pesos, so don’t act like you don’t know and get on with your two pesos out.”
His tone wasn’t rude at any point, but it did spark off a tit-for-tat of offenses, insults and who knows what else which didn’t end until we arrived at our final destination.
“That’s highway robbery, driver, how can they bump up the fare from 40 cents to two pesos, and, to top things off, charge the same for short and long distances. That’s disrespectful towards all workers and students in the province,” a medical student accompanied by four other students said.
“Gentlemen, please work with me. Have the two pesos handy,” the driver replied.
“Well, I only have one peso and I’m getting on, what do you think about that?” said an old woman bluntly while grabbing hold of the handrail of the bus and almost pushing the transportation employee.
“Look, ma’am, you could be my mother and you deserve respect, but I deserve it also. I am only complying with what’s established and my duties. If anyone disagrees with the rules, then that person should complain at an assessment meeting or at the provincial headquarters of the Party. No one’s getting on without paying.”
The old woman got on the bus with a defiant look on her face. The driver chose to let her through. He didn’t even charge her anything.
“They’re all a bunch of crooks;” said a tall, strong-looking man at the back of the line. “They’re exploiting the people who work and make sacrifices. We’re the ones who always end up carrying the can. People who own businesses don’t care about bus fares, they can afford expensive cabs, expensive food, expensive electrical bills; but those of us who get peanuts working for the State are screwed.”
The driver decided to keep quiet – perhaps because it dawned on him his job was to charge people the fare without kicking up a fuss, because he got tired of trying to make people understand he wasn’t to blame for the higher fare or because the big man made him nervous.
“Truth is,” said a woman as she paid the fare, “the folk who invented that law, measure or whatever you call it, neither those folk nor their families know what it’s like to get on a bus full of people, or hitching a ride to work every day. Those who decided to triple or quadruple local fares, all of them, including their kids, get around in comfortable cars, even to throw out the garbage.”
“Gentlemen, please, you want to kill the messenger who brings the bad news. This inconsiderate raise in fares isn’t the driver’s fault. He’s only doing his duty,” a woman said, trying to appease the crowd.
“Don’t defend him, girl, they’re all the same. He knows it’s unfair to charge two pesos to get us to the terminal, which isn’t even 5 kilometers away. He’s as much a crook as his bosses,” someone I didn’t get to see replied. A murmur reverberated across the bus, which, despite protests, was already full.
The driver still hadn’t said anything, but charged everyone, save the defiant old lady who got on first, the two pesos.
“It’s very good things like this and more is happening, so that people start reacting, opening their eyes once and for all. I don’t know how long we’re going to take everything that comes along without protesting,” remarked an elegantly-dressed woman who was standing next to me and who had already made more than two harsh pronouncements against the Cuban government and its new economic measures.
When I finally got off the bus (at the second-to-last stop), you could still hear angry comments about the new local and inter-municipal fares.
I got off quietly, as I had gotten on. I didn’t say a syllable. I don’t know whether I’m becoming like those people who take it without saying anything, or whether I’ve learned that protesting doesn’t do anything, that everything goes on the same, regardless.