Looking for a Mailman

Technological advances have caused the delivery of letters, telegrams and printed newspapers to plummet. (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Acosta, Havana, May 21, 2020 — “The mailman finally came. Let’s see how long he lasts. The previous one lasted the longest, about eight months, but he disappeared once the pandemic started,” laments Roberto Gomez, a resident of Havana’s Casino Deportivo neighborhood.

“For the last three years the newspaper has not arrived on time or every day. In that time period there have been more than fifteen different mail carriers. Some only lasted one day,” he complains to 14ymedio.

Not receiving the newspaper in a timely manner has not meant a reduction in the cost of Gomez’ subscription. Occasionally, three-days worth of newspapers have arrived at the same time. When they were not delivered to him, he had to go to the nearest post office to pick them up.

Fed up, he went to the post office to file a complaint with the manager about a situation that, since the pandemic began, has only gotten worse, but she was not even there. “I am left here holding the stick until all this mess gets sorted out,” replied the person who took his complaint.

Victor Perez, who worked for the Postal Service in the Tenth of October district about seven years ago, complains that, though employees are known as postmen because they deliver letters and telegrams, that is only part of what they do. His toughest task was delivering Granma and Juventud Rebelde. Back then he was paid a few cents for every newspaper and a little less for the letters, magazines and telegrams he delivered. Since there were only two-hundred houses in his delivery run, the most he ever earned was 400 pesos a month.

“I quit because it wasn’t worth all the time and effort,” says Perez. “I would get to work at seven in the morning and often stayed there until noon, waiting for the periodicals to arrive.”

During that time he lost fifteen pounds. Postal workers do not receive a stipend for lunch, as do other state employees. While making his rounds in heat of the day, he often consumed only water, a soft drink or a piece of bread since he could not afford to buy an afternoon snack.

Some postmen take advantage of the widespread problems in the distribution system to earn some extra money, stealing four or five copies and reselling them to customers willing to buy them for a peso apiece.

For a couple of years Odalys Vetia managed a post office in Casino Deportivo. “Dealing with all the problems that exist takes a heroic effort. Periodicals arrive at any time of day or don’t arrive at all. The office is always short one or two postmen. On top of that there are the hassles with money orders, cash, stamps and parcel delivery, although those are minor problems.”

According to Veitia, the problems are never ending. “The customers complain and the mailmen complain and the worst of it is that clients are almost always right. They don’t get their Granma or Juventud Rebelde until almost nighttime, when it’s all old news. Or even worse, it never arrives at all,” she says.

Every so often a post office finds itself without a manager and someone has to take over on a temporary basis. “It’s shocking when you see all this but are powerless to resolve the situation. To top it off, when you are the administrator, you have to justify the unjustifiable, or to quietly put up with complaints. Not everyone who complains is polite about it. Some people insult you and there are even those who want to physically attack you,” she says.

The profession has also failed to attract young people.

“I started working as a mailman two years ago and I only lasted a week,” says Ariel. “They say young people are irresponsible but the Ministry of Communications is the champion of irresponsibility. The newspaper never arrived on time.”

“The sun is brutal and going up two or three flights of stairs is a killer. I spent almost as much on juice and sandwiches that week as I would make in a month. It’s also a job that’s very uncool.”

Technological advances have caused the delivery of letters, telegrams and printed newspapers to plummet. But the decline of postal services and the number of mailmen began much earlier due to the delays and carelessness of the postal service itself. Opened letters, damaged packages and undelivered telegrams announcing the death of a family member tried the patience of customers.

With some exceptions the people who deliver periodicals are elderly or retired. This is the case with Julian, a 70-year-old who has taken up this work. In spite of his age he remains strong and agile. Life has trained him to do jobs that require physical effort and and a tolerance for sun.

“The neighbors in my building have gone without regular newspaper delivery for a long time,” explains Julian. “That’s why I decided to take up this work. It doesn’t pay much — 500 [Cuban] pesos a month [roughly $20 US] — but it’s not bad. Life gets harder every day.”

He started a week ago and must deliver 900 publications to 450 homes. Between the back and forth of picking up and delivering the papers, he walks about two and a half miles a day. “I am working hard to see if it suits me and if I can do it, but the years are taking their toll,” he says.

“In war and in peace we shall maintain communication,” goes an old slogan from the Ministry of Communications. Creole humorists say it should be changed to “we shall maintain mis-communication.”


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