Friday, November 27, 2009

Bicitaxis in Havana

Since the collapse of the Socialism in Eastern Europe, the public transportation system in Havana has been a disaster. It doesn’t mean necessarily it was a perfect system in the past, but at least it worked more regularly and with a better scope. But the Socialism in Europe banished, and the bulky pocket of the Cuban government was empty at the end of 1989 with no solutions for what it was a nightmare: move people around the capital city, Havana.bicitaxis

For decades, Havana has been in need of a more dynamic and diverse solution for the transportation of their citizens, but Cuban authorities only bet to one of the kind system: a network of crowded buses, which in Cuban slang is known as “guaguas”.

With a population of 2 and a half million, Havana was in need of diversity and extension. In their long scale dreams, Cuban authorities even published a plan to build the first subway. A dream so far away from the real Havana than people smiled with the idea and made funny jokes about it.

We never had infrastructure and electric power to move one single line of subway. With well-known blackouts in the country-side of the island, and even in some parts of Havana, the question popped up people’s mind every day: how it could be possible to build a subway with blackouts and a power system only based in fossil fuel generation?

Then, the Special Period came, and the public transportation system collapsed. The government took a step to appeal to the public for the use of bicycles and sold them massively along the country. In the other hand, Cubans took a step forward and Bicitaxis appeared on stage.

As always has been, the authorities responded with prohibition and repression, imposing high fines and expropriation. The bicitaxis’ owners didn’t show up fear. They protested one Saturday night on the streets of Centro Habana district, the blocks surrounded by Galeano and Zanja, an important intersection in downtown Havana. The bicitaxis’ won.

Since then, they are living in a semi-legal status, they are not completely legal, but their activities create another local attraction to the tourism and the authorities took advantage of that. The “cocotaxis” were born as a governmental alternative to the bicitaxis. The name of cocotaxis is after the coconut shape of them (coco is coconut in Spanish).

The war between the bicitaxi’s “industry” and the Cuban authorities proves how the local government responds always to the private sector: repression, monopolization and ultimately leniency when the official’s efforts to crush the activity could lead to unrest.

The fragile estate of the nation in the late 80’s and in the beginnings of the 90’s with the crisis in Europe and the collapse of the Socialism worldwide as a system, joined with the economic crisis and the lack of any single service in Cuba made the confrontation with the bicitaxis so dangerous that the government chose to allow that private sector to grow, and reluctantly incorporated that idea with the parallel appearance of the cocotaxi’s industry. The official response at what was a thriving activity in the touristic sector. Since then, they are running around together with no more disturbances.

The cocotaxis grew up and nowadays is an activity that crosses the line between the private sectors to become public. The allowance, nevertheless, is a brilliant example of how the civil society in Cuba could be a winner if the effort of the Cuban people matches up with one immediate objective.

The civil society has to look after that advance to achieve a victory. The crisis in the transport system created the natural conditions to surge the self-employment in terms of transportation, and both appeal to the general public who expressed sympathy with the bicitaxis’ owners in their confrontation with the government.

Cuban authorities had handled very careful any possible confrontation that could be bust the Revolution. Bicitaxis made history in the early 90’s. Today, they are part of the Cuba’s landscape and nobody remembers their bumpy beginnings.


Anonymous said...

Please, in spanish.

Anonymous said...

please, the blog in spanish language.

the blog is very interesting.