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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Private Transport Drivers in Central Cuba Demand End to Excessive Controls

Private Transport Drivers in Central Cuba Demand End to Excessive
Controls / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 9 August 2016 — Private trucks covering
the stretch between Santa Clara and Sancti Spiritus remained out of
service during the weekend and Monday in response to new demands from
the authorities. For several days, at checkpoints along the road drivers
have been asked to show an invoice for the purchase of fuel in state
service centers, a move intended to discourage them from resorting to
the illegal hydrocarbon market, 14ymedio's reporter Jose Gabriel
Barrenechea told this newspaper.

As of noon Monday, "not a single truck" had passed on the route which
also serves intermediate towns like Placetas and Cabaiguán, a decision
the private drivers of both provinces made together in protest against
increased controls by the police.

This kind of transport is very popular in the area and moves thousands
of passengers every day, in old trucks reconditioned to move people. The
situation got worse this weekend with the celebration of carnivals in
Santa Clara, which significantly increased the number of travelers in
the region.

There was a huge crowd of people at the Sancti Spiritus terminal on
Monday around noon. The truck drivers refused to provide their services,
explaining that last Friday a group of private drivers was detained at
the provincial delegation of the Ministry of Interior.

The arrests occurred at several operations at checkpoints on roads
connecting Santa Clara with Sancti Spiritus, where the carriers were
required to show proof of having purchased their vehicle's fuel through
the Cupet chain of state gas stations.

Ubaldo, 53, one of the drivers who serves the route and who has refused
to work for the past three days, told this newspaper that the business
does not make enough to buy fuel at Cupet because a liter is nearly 30
Cuban pesos, and the same amount can be bought illegally for about half
that. "Nobody wants to drive the road because the fares are the same and
we don't do charity," he says.

Most of the gas that is sold in the informal market comes from state
enterprises [i.e. is illegally "diverted" at various points], which in
recent months have experienced up to 30% cuts in their fuel assignments
because of the tense economic situation in the country.

Given the crowding of passengers at interprovincial terminals and
various points between Villa Clara and Sancti Spiritus local authorities
yielded to pressure after noon on Monday and called the truckers one by
one to ask them to make the trip and guaranteed that no one will ask for
proof of payment.

Some of the self-employed saw this decision as a small victory and
returned to work Monday afternoon, but others, more distrustful, have
preferred to wait to verify that the controls have been ended. "I do not
want to lose money nor my license," Raymundo, who owns a Ford truck that
regularly makes the trip from Villa Clara to Trinidad told this newspaper.

State buses in the region are not adequate to meet the demand for
interprovincial travel. From the bus terminal in Sancti Spiritus
vehicles leave five times a day – at 5, 6, 7 and 10 am and 2 pm – bound
for Santa Clara, but they suffer frequent breakdowns and technical glitches.

Transport managers and specialists in the area are studying "setting
caps" on the prices of private transport, as was done in the capital,
according to sources in Villa Clara's provincial government. The
authorities, are hoping to counter the rising fares by also bringing in
a fleet of new "Diana" brand buses assembled on the island.


An "almendrone" (14ymedio)
In Havana, the picture is not very different. Desperate customers
crowding corners to board a shared fixed-route taxi and workers who need
more than three hours to get home at the end of the working day are
scenes that are repeated everywhere. The imposition of price controls
for "almendrones" (the old American cars used in this service, named for
their "almond" shape) has contributed to the transport crisis, which
interferes with daily life in the Cuban capital.

Passengers see this as a test of strength between the government and the
self-employed transportation providers, a confrontation where the
private operators seek to overcome the fare restrictions, and the
authorities try to control the rising prices the sector has experienced
since mid-June.

The shortages at the gas stations regulated by the State contribute to
the problem. Of the five gas stations in Havana's Vededo district
14ymedio visited this Sunday, only one, at 25th Street and Avenue of the
Presidents, was open for business. El Tangana, at the corner of Malecon
and Linea, and the station at 17th and L, as well as the station at
Linea and D Street all remain closed for lack of supply.

An article published last Thursday by the official daily Granma
recognizes the reduction in the number of private cars that make up a
major part of the transportation routes within the capital city, due to
the drivers' response to the freezing of rates on July 14, a decision
taken by the Provincial Administration Council in Havana.

With the application of Agreement 185, which established that
self-employed drivers could not raise their fares and must adhere to the
fares in effect prior to July 1, drivers have chosen to shorten their
routes or significantly curtail their working days, as recognized by
Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party.

"Before, I could take just one car from my house in Santiago de las
Vegas," a passenger told this newspaper. "Now I have to take two
vehicles, one to Sports City and another to the end, so the trip costs
me twice as much," the woman lamented, who said the government thought
it had found a solution to the price increases caused by a reduction in
the supplies of fuel in the informal market. However, she says, "what
has happened is that the drivers have split the routes and no one can
force them to run the whole way," explains the irritated customer."

Of the more than 496,400 people who in January of this year were
"self-employed," at least 50,482 are dedicated to the transport of cargo
and passengers.

Source: Private Transport Drivers in Central Cuba Demand End to
Excessive Controls / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/private-transport-drivers-in-central-cuba-demand-end-to-excessive-controls-14ymedio-zunilda-mata/
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