14ymedio, Havana, Pedro Espinosa, 29 December 2023 – Every day he comes into the Villanueva bus station in Havana knowing that, if it weren’t for his particular role, very few passengers would be departing from the city. A number of members of staff now don’t want to work with him. “You’re too noticeable” they tell him. But business goes on and is getting better and better. At this year’s end, for 3,000 pesos the “journey fixer” of Villanueva is able to get you a passage to any city on the island.
Desperate to get out of this terminal – a complete microcosm of the misery of the Cuban capital – whoever has the money also knows the tricks and passwords for finding him. The man arrives at Villanueva – a hive of people waiting, sleeping, talking – and looks for the staff member who will supply him with seats for resale that day.
They greet each other as if they don’t know one another and shortly after they enter the toilets. Here is where the first phase of the transaction takes place. The “journey fixer” then locates his client, takes a piece of paper from his pocket with a number on it – the number of his place in the waiting list – and asks him to be patient. After a moderate wait the terminal’s employee will call the client, reeling off his identity card number. This is the signal that the transaction is completed. He has paid 3,000 pesos instead of the 75 that it would normally cost him to get to Santa Clara, but it relieves him of the massive tedium of a long stay in the pigsty that is Villanueva.
The “journey fixer” is the king of Villanueva. Everybody knows him – that’s his Achilles’ heel, but it’s also part of his modus operandi: he goes through the waiting area calling all his regulars “cousins” or “nephews”.
Outside of this “family”, and with no money or particular skills, the majority of passengers simply have to wait their turn. And that can take days. Before turning up at Villanueva the best thing to do is get yourself equipped with water, pillows and duvets. The experience is exhausting, especially for children and the elderly, who have to take it in turns to watch over and protect their luggage. Whole families often turn up at the terminal, intending to meet up – especially in holiday periods like this new year – with the extended family they left behind in the provinces where they were brought up.
The tenuous line that separates the state from the private sector passes through the cafeterias, which the government handed over to the mipymes [small/medium sized private businesses]. However, the number of customers they have is small, because a ham sandwich will cost you 150 pesos and a cookie and soft drink the same price. If you do have the money the better course of action is not to waste it on all this indigestible food at the terminal, but to use it to try and haggle a price with the “journey fixer”. Also, except in cases of emergency, the best thing is to avoid at all costs the toilets at Villanueva. The poor experience you’ll have there isn’t even free: the doorman will demand three pesos for using the facilities.
In the microcosmic world of Villanueva, he who has managed to grab a seat is the winner. The majority of passengers have to put up with the filthy ground, which even the street dogs find uncomfortable. Recent arrivals spend hours standing around waiting on foot; the “veterans”, who have perfected the art of hunting down a seat, will sleep there: some of them even for as long as fifteen days.
In the meantime, even the “journey fixer” knows his time here is temporary. However many followers he brings together or clients he locates, the delicate ecosystem of Villanueva is dependent upon the police – and ultimately the regime – which for now leave him alone. Tomorrow? Nobody knows.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso
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