Without Private Participation, Transport in Cuba Will Not Go Very Far

A police checking the papers of a pedicab driver in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 22 March 2023 — They don’t want to admit it, but if they want to get somewhere with transport in Cuba, they have to turn to the private sector. There is no other choice. In fact, one of the sectors of the Cuban economy that suffers a true crisis because of communist ideological measures is transport. And this, despite the fact that it is a fundamental sector for the proper functioning of the national economy in which the public and private must cooperate.

Unfortunately, none of this was mentioned at the annual evaluation meeting of the Ministry of Transport, Mitrans, held a few days ago and chaired by the Prime Minister, Marrero. In these meetings, the directors of the department talked about actions to stop road deterioration and begin its recovery, consolidate the development of computerization and strengthen the link with universities. The same thing every year. All this, according to the official press, to “achieve a robust transport system in 2023.” And to start over. It can be as robust as they want, but it won’t go anywhere.

And, as surprising as it may seem, there was only one reference in passing to adopt measures for prices in passenger transport, and this, despite the fact that, in February, the transport component of the consumer price index registered a year-on-year increase of 15% with an intense acceleration in the first two months.

It’s all the same. The Minister of Transport emphatically announced that this year, “the indication is to achieve the integration of all sectors of the industry to improve the quality of services.” The same “indication” of every year that later is never fulfilled. Integration and collectivism, the two vectors that prevent the sector from prospering.

At the meeting, with a large participation of officials and senior leaders of the communist party, not a moment was lost in blaming the embargo/blockade, the global economic crisis and the complex international situation for the lack of results. As a novelty, the minister insisted on “the need to eliminate the self-blocking and the limitations that many impose on themselves, with the aim of moving forward and looking for alternative solutions,” but without indicating which ones. A maxim since the times of the guidelines, which continues to be repeated like a scratched disc.

In his speech, Marrero surprised the attendees by pointing out that the most economical solution for the transport of goods “must be shipping,” and, a little surprisingly, he affirmed the need to “maintain performance with the support of state cars in public transport.”

Next, he said that a proper implementation of the recent Decree 83 on the transfer of ownership of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers, their marketing and import (which seems to be a failure in view of the results) must be achieved; and they must raise the coefficients of technical availability of the vehicles with closed financing schemes (in the most absolute gibberish of the regime) and, from innovation, recover spare parts and added values (the scrappers’ business).

Next, he referred to the dissatisfactions with the work of the freight forwarding companies (dedicated to the distribution of international and state parcels, that is, dependent on it), which, in the case of Mitrans, are the entities Aerovaradero S.A. and the Freight Carrier Company (Transcargo). He concluded by saying that “Roads are one of the most complex issues facing the Island and, to guarantee productive activity, a solution must be found and the issue of road safety must be analyzed.” Traffic accidents are increasing significantly.

When talking about the transport of goods, Mitrans’ Director of Cargo of pointed out that the participation of various economic actors in the management must be increased. Work plans must be organized objectively to optimize resources, as well as the use of rail and shipping for the transport of cargo over long distances. It was the only reference to the private agents who offer their services in the sector.

In the case of Operation Port-Transport-Internal Economy (OPTEI), the Brigadier General at the head pointed out that it is necessary to maintain as a style of work the most agile transport groups at the beginning for extraction in the ports and final delivery to the client.

The director of passenger transport for Mitrans, pointed out that, although 2023 will be difficult, the measures adopted will allow the gradual recovery to begin. He insisted on the need to set objectives to meet the transport plans of the main services: taxis, school, urban, intercity, workers and rural. All this, without taking into account the February price increase in these services.

The general director of the Union of Railways of Cuba stressed that part of the actions for this year are focused on achieving the recovery of discharged equipment, including the manufacture of railways and on increasing efficiency, the quality of services and strengthening preventive work to avoid rail accidents. But it cannot prevent the use of the railway from being marginal for both passengers and goods.

At this point, Marrero ended by requesting the use of “carahatas,” a word that has no definition in the dictionary but that the prime minister said are small motor cars, alternatives for transport in rural areas. He also asked to conclude the work at the Central Railway Station of the capital and analyze the use and operation of urban trains.

For his part, the director of the Port Maritime Business Group (Gemar), said that within the projections is the launching of the ferry service and the floating dam, which Marrero said was a priority for the country, although curiously, he did not say anything about the transport of goods by shipping.

Finally, the president of the Corporación de la Aviación Cubana S.A. (Cacsa), spoke of improving the quality of passenger service and aircraft and achieving the sustainability of technological systems with a great impact on air activity, among other aspects. He also reported that work is being done on repairing the runways of the airports of Cayo Coco, Havana and Santiago de Cuba, as well as the expansion of Terminal 3 of the José Martí International Airport, which must be completed this year.

The vision that the authorities of the communist regime have of the transport sector does not go beyond the design of state policies, which leave aside the marginal private initiative that tries to survive on the Island. Good proof of this are the few 190 SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] authorized by the regime for transport, which are barely 4% of the total. That scarce participation of private activity says a lot about the grip that the regime has on the sector, preventing its development.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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