Human Rights in Cuba

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Waiting for help
Waiting for help

The Many Faces of the Buquenque / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on August 2, 2014

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 1 August 2014, Havana – When you walk
through Fraternity Park, amid the bustle of Havana, you hear the cries
of masculine voices calling out possible destinations for trips to
diverse places in the capital. Near the Aldama Palace they shout out
that there are two spaces left for Boyeros and Santiago de las Vegas. A
little further on to the left, under the shade of the laurels, they
invite you to go to Cotorro, and on nearly reaching the Capitol they
announce cars for Alamar. For the most part they are American cars,
Chevrolet, Ford, Plymouth, Oldsmobile, made before 1960, with the
exception of the odd Lada or Moskvitch, devoted to the singular
that combines the characteristics of a taxi and a .

This type of transport is popularly called almendrones [almonds], which
for 10 or 20 Cuban pesos (depending on the distance) run on fixed
routes. At the origin points a new figure appeared one day, a character
whose job it is to attract clients for the almendrones and whom everyone
knows as a “buquenque.”

For a long time buquenques thrived outside the law, charging (chiseling,
some say) each driver 5 national pesos for the service of bringing him
passengers, but recently the legislation that protects self-employment
opened a space for them. Of course it didn’t call them buquenques, but
the job appears as number 53 on a list of 201 activities as “Taxi trip
manager.” In the “description of scope” the law defines the work content
as: “Manages passengers to fill the capacity of vehicles at stops
authorized by the corresponding Administrative Board.” If properly
registered they should pay the national treasury 80 Cuban pesos every month.

Put this way, one imagines a coat and tie and even a web page to make
reservations, but it’s not like that, rather it’s a shouted offer, often
unnecessarily loud, where the volume of the shouts, and a certain
authoritarian air, almost orders the passenger to get in the car.

A character whose job it is to attract clients for the almendrones and
whom everyone knows as a “buquenque.”

The Cuban scholar Argelio Santiesteban, in his singular dictionary The
Popular Cuban Speech Today (Editorial Ciencias Sociales, 1997), defines
the word buquenque as “pimp, flatterer,” but some of the drivers might
define them as a plague of parasites. At least that’s what Agustín Pérez
thinks: “When I get to the end of the trip, I don’t stop at the initial
stop, rather I pick up passengers along the road, there are always
people who need to make a trip between intermediate places. That way I
save five pesos and avoid dealing with those guys.”

Oscar Rodriguez doesn’t pay for a license as a taxi driver and so he
avoids the inspectors, although he’s calculated that there’s more
business along the authorized routes. “The buquenques don’t care if I
have a license or if I’m working under the table, what they care about
is that I give them five pesos and what I care about is not hanging
around the stop.”

The activity of the “passenger manager” extends to the interprovincial
environment. So, next to the Havana Bus Terminal you can see them
shouting out cities in the interior. The most popular are Pinar del Río,
Santa Clara and Matanzas, any further and the trip isn’t profitable. The
buquenques are apparently more organized there and when coordinating
to Pinar del Río, if they discover a passenger wants to go to
Cienfuegos or Varadero, they advise the appropriate buquenque, more out
of hope of reciprocity than solidarity.

Begging for trouble with drivers and passengers, the buquenque spends
hours in the street, often without being able to count on a nearby
public bathroom and having to eat whatever comes to hand. He is one of
those characters of current times in which the slightest government
opening has created mediocre escape valves.

Some accept it as a more or less entertaining opportunity in which they
can show off their talent for marketing, as is the case with Leopoldo.
“Fifteen days after leaving Guantanamo and without even having a place
to sleep here in Havana, I found this job and I wouldn’t give it up for
anything. Now I’m renting a room and by the end of a year I’m going to
buy something. Then I’ll bring the rest of the family. Here, among these
wolves, I’ve learned to defend myself.”

Pedestrians pass by indifferent to the dramas and comedies that are
woven behind the curtains of this profession, where you have to know how
to show a fierce face to your competitors and another, friendly one, to
your customers, without ever confusing the roles.

Source: The Many Faces of the Buquenque / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar |
Translating Cuba –

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