Cuba: A Return to the Special Period

A “makeshift” bus in Cuba; here a cart pulled by a tractor earlier in the century. (MJ Porter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 27 April 2023 — When the Soviet empire fell, after the toppling of the Berlin Wall by Germans who wanted to live in freedom, the regime in Havana was left a political and ideological orphan. Fidel Castro did not allow his arm to be twisted. Applying measures during the “Special Period in Times of Peace” he aimed to avoid the bitter pill and forced Cubans to go through all kinds of hardships. At the time, transportation was one of the sectors which fared the worst, when the Russian petroleum “supplies” failed to arrive. Like now, more or less. Already at that time, Cuba didn’t have access to global petroleum markets due to its accumulated debt. History repeats itself.

The regime blames the situation on technical problems of one of the suppliers, ships that do not arrive, or the embargo, but all that makes little sense when the main reason is its failure to pay debts that prevents it from accessing global petroleum markets, just as any other country. In fact, there is not currently a fuel shortage in any country in the world, and that is because the price of petroleum is falling. Only in Cuba is there a shortage of fuel (and food, electricity, everything.) Force them to see it.

Some things become daily realities for Cubans. During the Special Period, they ordered a series of measures to be applied to transport passengers when faced with fuel shortages; private trucks, animal-drawn carts or any kind of state vehicle were once again forced to transport people along the main routes, no matter the conditions. The movie, “Guantanamera” offered images of that time, which seemingly will become the reality once again.

The regime, faced with the lack of fuel which prevents the May 1st celebration in Havana, has approved Resolution 435 which forces drivers to pick up passengers, regardless of whether or not there are inspectors at the stop. As of now, passengers will be picked up by any mode of transport, along the busiest routes, with a priority at peak times, determined by the accumulation of people at the stops and the level of mobility. An alarming situation for difficult times. And the people, just like during the Special Period, pay the worst of it all with major sacrifices.

The state press has announced that the measures are being urgently applied in the capital and in Las Tunas, very densely populated areas, and that, little by little, they will be expanded throughout the rest of the country.

It’s easy to remember how the communists interfered in their transportation demands during the “Special Period”. Stationed in certain areas of the country, especially the busiest ones, agents of the party and state security who participated in the operation would detain any mode of transport of the few that passed on the roads and would begin an exhaustive check to know from where they came, what they were transporting, where they were going, etc. The point was to investigate and control.

Well, the communists have already provided a similar system in 2023 and according to the state press, in the early morning, the checks began, and anything could come of them. There is much talk about the need for solidarity, and the participation of all those who can, in one way or another, contribute to alleviate the situation.

But in reality, according to the media, the act of inspection and control of Resolution 435 emerged with extraordinary speed. They insist it is based on “objective planning, with the resources we have in hand, so that no destination is vulnerable and we will meet every afternoon, once again, to assess the implementation of each entity at this crucial moment of fuel scarcity.”

The regime’s behavior aims, just as during the Special Period, for private trucks to travel on the routes of highest demand and that drivers of motorbike-taxis to collaborate on the urban circuit. There are doubts about whether tourists will need to take any citizen in their cars.

These control actions are accompanied by measures to make oil more available to those who contribute to the travel network. There are doubts about whether a truck that arrives in Havana with an empty tank at a time the gas stations are not in service will need to interrupt its activity, for all its collaborating.

Currently, business units served by the Ómnibus Nacionales de Last Tunas continue their planned trips to Havana, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas and Holguín and on the evening of Wednesday, April 19, there was an extra route toward the country’s capital, but the lack of fuel will imminently affect these services.

To the lack of gasoline and fuel, which is what affects the transportation sector, one must add the lack of spare parts, tires, and batteries, supplies that are in short supply and necessary for the rehabilitation of the vehicle fleet and its updating. The transport crisis, due to its cross-cutting nature, will affect to a greater extent all sectors of the economy and, above all, the living conditions of the population. None of this is good for the GDP of 2023, it will have to be taken into account for the calculation.

Under the exceptional circumstances, many Cubans ask if the official vehicles in which Díaz-Canel, Marrero, or Gil travel will be detained and inspected for them to transport other people to their destinations. I doubt it will be that way. In the film “Guantanamera” they managed to transport a dead man in different vehicles through provinces of the country. The communists have ideas of a similar nature.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez


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