Rebeca Monzo, 21 February 2017 — New bureaucratic regulations governing the routes of shared fixed-route taxis have led to the first tangible labor strike by drivers. Of course, strikes have gone on for many years in our country due to the poverty-level wages paid to workers in the bureaucratic and service sectors. As the old saying goes, “the government pretends to pay us and we pretend to work.”
The best known example of the current strike involves boteros (literally “boatmen” — the taxi drivers of cars from the 1940s and 1950s). After bureaucrats set the prices for certain short trips at 5.00 Cuban pesos, the so-called national currency, drivers refused to pick up short-haul passengers.
After paying a high fee to the government for a license to operate, it is not profitable for a driver to charge 5.00 Cuban pesos when 0.25 CUC* (roughly the same in the other currency) does not even cover the high cost of fuel. Furthermore, anytime a car brakes, there is wear and tear on the tires and battery. And whenever a car door opens to let a customer get in or out, more fuel is consumed. Consider that a tire in this country costs approximately 160.00 CUC, about the same the price as a battery, not to mention that spark plugs go for almost 3.00 CUC apiece.
Boteros are helping to solve the serious problem of urban transport in this country. These new regulations have led to an increase in the number of bus riders, which has in turn led to a deterioration in public transportation.
Why do these same bureaucrats, who say they have adopted these regulations to protect the pocketbooks of average citizens, not work to reduce to extremely high cost of food priced in the national currency and especially in the convertible currency? Obviously, the state guarantees them an auto, gasoline and spare parts, so they are not directly and personally affected by the needs and problems that the Cuban population faces.
In short, the botero is not forcing you to be his customer. It is the state which is forcing you by not attending to or solving, after so many years, the big transportation problems in our country.
Translator’s note: Cuban convertible peso, equivalent to about 6.63 Cuban pesos.