14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillén, San Cristóbal | December 01, 2018 – The drivers of horse drawn carts from San Cristóbal, Artemisa, have declared a strike as a signal of protest against new restrictions imposed by the Municipal Administration Council (CAM). The coachmen have decided to battles the authorities to repeal the measures that prevent them from entering the town and force them to only travel on outer roads.
On Friday, passengers arriving at the stand from where the horse-drawn carriages depart found the drivers seated, with arms crossed and insisting that they would not work until a “favorable agreement” was reached with the local government. The strike has paralyzed a municipality where most transportation is done via this rustic means of transit.
Last week the authorities decreed that the drivers could not circulate through the inner roads of San Cristóbal due to alleged complaints from neighbors about the bad smell of urine and the animals’ excrement of the animals. A version that drivers question, blaming the new restrictions on old tensions between municipal managers and workers in this private sector.
Less than three months ago the confrontation between both parties reached a point of no return, when in September the local government forced the drivers to move to secondary streets far from the center of the town. At that time, the drivers complained widely but ended up obeying the rules. On this occasion they have decided to go a step further.
“We can’t publicly say we are on strike, because in Cuba is not allowed, but we will stop working until we reach an agreement,” 14ymedio was told by Arsenio Ramirez, one of the drivers who this Friday reined in as a gesture of protest. “It was not enough for us to move five blocks away from the main roads, now they aren’t allowing us to enter the town at all,” he complains.
The drivers are sitting at their pick-up point and have organized to make the rounds with some of their vehicles but without picking up passengers on the road. The unusual scene of the horse-drawn carriages circulating empty has generated much curiosity among passers-by who have taken countless videos and photos of the work stoppage.
“The objective is for people to see the coaches circulating and find out what is happening,” explains Maikel, a young coachman who has joined the strike. “We have to collect evidence of the number of people who benefit from our service, with a bit of luck there will be more complaints from the population in favor of us and the authorities will have to reverse the measure.”
The local government has responded so far by placing a new bus that will cover the route from the main park of San Cristóbal to the hospital, twice a day. A way to easing the tension that has been created among the passengers who aren’t able to travel in the horsecarts that traditionally cover that stretch.
“We transport around 7,000 people a day,” says Rolando Martinez, “most of them go to the hospital, whether workers or patients, who often come from other municipalities.” The driver believes that without the cars providing service the pressure on the authorities becomes unsustainable.
San Cristóbal has a population of more than 71,000 and is the second most populated territory in Artemisa province. In the town there is also a hospital that covers services of different specialties at the provincial level and the difficult situation of public transport forces the use of the horsecarts to get there.
“This morning the scene was bleak, doctors, nurses, children dressed in uniforms, everyone lined up on the road while the carts passed by empty, there was no transport so we had to walk to the hospital,” Carmen María, a nurse who had to walk the route on foot, complained Friday.
The changes in the horsecarts travel routes were announced last Thursday in a meeting in which representatives participated on behalf of the self-employed drivers, along with officials from the Municipal Administration Council.
“They treated us rudely, as soon as we expressed our discontent, the deputy director began to shout,” says one of the coachmen who participated in the meeting.
Pedicabs were also regulated with this measure, however they continue working in secret, although the local government has sent dozens of inspectors into the street who are imposing fines of up to 1,500 CUP on those who contravene the measure, which can even end up with the seizure of the vehicle in the event the driver is a repeat offender.
San Cristóbal has 81 animal-drawn vehicles in service for the transportation of passengers, 56 of them are duly regulated and at least six have contracts with institutions linked to education, commerce and culture sectors. The rest of the cars circulate illegally.
“As we are a large group, we organize ourselves and pay for a truck of water every two days to clean the area where we park the animals to avoid neighbors getting upset with the smell of horse urine, which is very unpleasant,” Arsenio Ramírez details to14ymedio.
Other drivers, such as Roilán, are optimistic about the results of the strike. “We have the certainty that the situation will be fixed, as soon as the week starts and people protest about having to walk.” The Self-employed driver says that if “each municipal administration sets its rules,” with this work stoppage the drivers are asserting theirs.
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