Trains Toward Disaster / Luis Felipe Rojas

In the life of a Cuban, every promise made by the government seems destined to become a permanent mockery.

When I see the faces of the highest ranking functionaries, even if I try very hard, I cannot picture them in the most common of places. Machado Ventura in a 3 day-long line to purchase a train ticket to travel to Ciego de Avila? Esteba Lazo traveling 36 hours between Matanzas and Santiago de Cuba? Although these descriptions have elements of a tragic comedy piece, it would be good to have them live these realities which happen to us, the most common of mortals, happen to them, the same chosen ones as always.

Sometimes just a few examples are enough. The train which covers the Antilla-Holguin route and which continues towards Las Tunas to return that same afternoon to the same spot is one of the jewels amid the Cuban bestiary. Since the Oliver Bridge (just a few kilometers away from the Antilla station) is broken, travelers must take a bus towards the neighborhood of Antillita, but if it has only so much as rained and there have been morning tracks, the driver drops off the passengers a kilometer and a half away from the cars. The traveler must then agonizingly and difficultly walk the entire way, carrying all sorts of baggage, all through their own means. Sometimes a rural farm worker yokes his ox with a wagon and helps the traveler travel across, through mud, for the price of 3 Cuban pesos. And the authorities? Good. There I’ve seen doctors, soldiers, political science specialists. Never members of the municipal government.

When the national route trains arrive to Camaguey, the train attendents rush the passengers amid heavy bags and seated persons in the hallway to warn that the train has arrived. They tell the people to open their eyes and guard their baggage. Though it occurs less frequently, the thieves like to climb aboard the train, put bags on the wagons they see through the windows, snatch necklaces and commence with the art of stealing. There is a police station in the area but very little has been done about it.

In the intermediary stations en route to Havana they only sell a dozen tickets by reservation, booked 1 week in advance. This method of travel consists of a long line, which lasts a couple of days, and all interested passengers must write down their names in long lists. Even then, if one wishes to travel to the capital of the country you only have to offer 100 or 150 pesos and when the day comes to board the train you’ll have your ticket in hand. It can also be done while boarding without a ticket and buying it at the same price from government officials. If, on the contrary, one does not have sufficient money, then you have to go through the difficult situation of having to sit in the empty seats which start getting filled by their owners as the train stops in their respective posts. And I assure you that despite all these hassles before reaching your final destination, you will see how there always were dozens of empty seats which are property of inspectors, employees, and superintendents.

I have explained these examples without adorning them with the filth, the insects, and the pestilent sanitation services with which the government awards “low-class” citizens- nearly 90 percent of the Cubans who inhabit this island.

Translated by: Raul G.

31 December 2011