Reports from Cuba: The difference of a zero is felt in the pocket

Kamil Kenders writes in Havana Times:

The Difference of a Zero is Felt in the Pocket

The Cuban people have been facing many challenges for years: food, transportation, health, education, and the list goes on. In recent times, the situation has worsened, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have always been one to wait for public transportation because paying 100 or 150 Cuban pesos for a collective taxi is a lot, considering the average Cuban’s salary. Unfortunately, I have been forced to part with some of my salary for the “boteros” (taxi drivers) because it is literally impossible to board a bus.

Just a few days ago, it was a friend’s birthday, and I wanted to visit her. I was leaving Vedado and was mentally and monetarily prepared to spend money on a collective taxi because I had no desire to ruin my day, let alone endure squeezes, pushes, and tramples on public transport.

So, after a wait, a taxi finally stopped, and when I asked about the cost, miraculously, he said it was 100 pesos. I had to make a second car because no direct one passed through the area to my final destination. However, I decided to ask the driver “how much he would charge” to take me the entire way, and he said a thousand. The difference of a zero is felt in the pocket; therefore, I told him I would only go to “La Ceguera” (as Cubans call the ophthalmological hospital, actually named Pando Ferrer). This is the midpoint where I had to stay and then find another option to take me to Altahabana.

The driver started talking, perhaps because he is a talkative man or he simply wanted to inform me about what is almost a certainty: “the increase in fares.” His words were very clear, and like him, all private taxi drivers in this country must think: “I don’t care if the fuel price goes up 5 or 10 times, I will raise the fare the same number of times.” I didn’t pay much attention; why look for more trouble? Or worse, get into a controversy with someone who, after all, is also there to solve your problem.

A typical long line to buy gasoline when its available.

I simply said, “Most likely, many people won’t be able to afford the fare.” To which he replied, “I have my regular customers; I already paid someone to wait in line for fuel because I won’t do it.” Good for him, those who have money will now have more, that’s clear. And those with less will continue to suffer the consequences of all these price hikes and inflation.

I arrived at “La Ceguera” and prepared to take another car to see if I could reach and visit my friend. The return was more complicated because I walked half the way. And it’s best that I get used to it because I don’t think my pocket or that of a large percentage of the Cuban population can withstand it.

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