"Now the race to get an almendrón (taxi) will be liked a marathon," warned writer Yani Monzón on the social networks last weekend.
Private-sector workers holding "transport operation" licenses, cab drivers known as boteros, have been hit by another act of Government meddling: new regulations enacted last week Transport Authority in Havana effectively lowered taxi rates 5 pesos on each fare.
"When I heard the news, for a moment I was glad for my mother and all everyday Cubans. But later I realized that those boteros are also everyday Cubans. And that the social manipulation the Government practices, though supposedly favoring the people, does not favor anything or anybody, except for them," affirmed Monzón.
Although the rate reduction imposed on taxi drivers has been portrayed as a boon for Havanans, its consequences constitute a true concern.
"It is a clear message sent by the Government against the self employed," declared Eladio Zúñiga.
"The short-term benefit of saving 5 pesos on each fare is undeniable. But what about the long term? Last year when the Government took measures against the boteros' irregularities, getting around town was a genuine ordeal, and now it could get worse," he stated.
"What is so great about imposing a price cap on a private-sector service when the Government does not even have solutions to guarantee regular transport for working people?" Pedro Salinas asked.
"The truth that it’s hard to come up with 10 or 20 pesos just to get around, but neither is it easy to be a taxi driver, or a street vendor, or a cart driver, or a waiter, or a carpenter. It’s not easy to be an entrepreneur in Cuba when every six months the State invents new some new regulations that hurt you," he complained.
Lidia Santana, a secretary at a capital bank, stated that she is "all mixed up," unable to decide "who's right and who's wrong."
"I suppose that the Government plans to distribute Chinese bicycles through workplaces again, as the outlook is going from bad to worse, and I can assure you that there is no a ‘plan B’ if the boteros, as a result of this, decide to strike back. This five-peso discount will be the world's most expensive in the medium term," she predicted.
"The question is not who is right, but who ends up paying the price. We are survivors, taking advantage of each other, as this Government has taught us to," she added.
The taxi drivers defend themselves
A graduate in Industrial Design, five years ago Orestes decided to join the private sector as a botero, with the dream of eventually managing "a fleet of three or four automobiles."
"Cubans who play along with the Government, and make us out to be the bad guys, have short memories. Who can get around in a taxi with foreign currency? Who in this city remembers empty bus stops, and dependable urban transport? When a Cuban asks those questions to the right person, and in the right place, I will lower my rate one peso in his honor," he promised.
Alberto Malo is a taxi driver who covers the Old Havana-Alamar route. He says he's not "distressed by this Government abuse," and has faith that "things will pan out."
"But I would like to send a message to my compatriots, to refresh their memories: there are no medicines, there are no materials with which to repair your houses, there are no school uniforms, there is no nutritious food… and all we are forced to scrap to get these things. Everybody knows whose fault this is, but everyone bites their lip. But they point their fingers at our taxi drivers, and, by extension, all those who are self employed. It's quite a way to be cowardly."
In the middle of the bustling El Curita Park, one of Havana's busiest private taxi stops, several drivers complained about what they view as "Cubans' hypocrisy."
"The store shelves full, people with their shopping bags full, everybody all dressed up, and with fancy cell phones. But everyone is bothered that the taxi drivers can make a living and support their families," said Paulino.
"Those five pesos that they think they are saving with us, are spent on all the stuff that the State sells, and you don't hear a peep when they raise those prices, despite all the junk there is," added Damián.
"For me it is clear that it is not a crusade against the boteros, but against all the self employed. It’s a pity that Cubans fail to realize that their trick, in the end, is to pit us Cubans against each other… that is what it’s really about, and not saving 5 or 10 pesos."