Successes in the Fight Against Bureaucracy?

Williams, a warehouse keeper in a brewery, is holding his labour record in his hand. He boasts it triumphantly as it took him five agonizing months before he finally got what he wanted – five months of paying regular visits to the Human Resources department of the company, leaving empty-handed.

Paperwork in Cuban public offices. Photo by Frank Correa
Paperwork in Cuban public offices. Photo by Frank Correa

“Getting the labour record was an odyssey. The reason why I decided to leave the company was that we, the warehouse keepers, were punished for robberies committed outside our shifts. Several times there were broken seals and we were always thought of as the culprits to blame. But the fact is that there are five deputy managers and five department heads with their respective deputies in the company, in addition to the manager, the secretary and employees in charge of the warehouses. Everyone wants to carry something away – ‘raspar’ – that’s what they call the act of stealing in the company. So many people having the same intention, just imagine that!”

Williams says that once on a nightshift he fell asleep for a while and when he woke up at dawn, one of the doors of the warehouse had a broken seal and some goods were missing. He was arrested and imprisoned for 20 days, after which he was released for lack of proofs of his guilt.

“In the 20 days when I was held in the 100 y Aldabó prison, I kept repeating the same thing: the seal was broken, but they opened the door with the key. And who has the keys? When they released me, I went to the company and gave a notice, but it took them five months before they confirmed it. If that’s not bureaucracy, then what it is?”

Adriana Arce is a young woman who also has a long history with paperwork and documents. She’s been trying to acquire ownership of her house for five years.

“It’s a separate part of my aunt’s house and it was a hard job to get it. First, I had to obtain the Occupancy Certificate, which took ages. After that, they asked me to bring an endless number of documents for the Technical Report, which is the most important document in the entire procedure. I spent two and a half years traveling every week to the Municipal Housing Authority, to ask whether the report had already been issued, but they always answered in the negative. Now I’m waiting for them to sign the property, which is yet another cycle of waiting. Isn’t this extreme bureaucracy? As I can’t pay them the money they ask for speeding up the process, I have to follow the routine procedures for the underprivileged.”

Another one who reflected on the issue was Carlota Menéndez, food analyst at a scientific centre, resident of the Siboney district of the Playa municipality.

“Bureaucracy is related to corruption. A few years ago, Raúl fought a battle which lead to termination of one million surplus jobs. However, neither the management systems nor organization structures were modified and for this reason, the current bureaucracy is even more palpable.”

Carlota tells us that recently when she had to go through some paperwork at the Food Distribution Control Office (OFICODA), she was shocked at the amount of papers and stamps that she was asked to provide.

“Last week I lost the food ration book on the street. To have a new one issued, I had to bring my ID card and a five-peso stamp, plus the certificate of home ownership and an application signed by the warehouse manager at the butcher’s, the baker’s and the agrarian’s.”

Silvia Figueredo, who had to retire from her job in the commerce sector due to an illness, believes that bureaucracy will kill her faster than her ailments.

“After 40 years of work, I retired with a monthly pension of 96 pesos. I pay 105 pesos a month only for medicines. What do you think of it? They told me to go to Social Assistance office, which is supposed to help in such cases, but after learning how many documents I’m asked to submit I gave up.”

36-years-old Abilio, an entrepreneur born Marianao, has tried out several trades and swears that he could now give a masterclass in bureaucracy.

“I started as a pedicab (bicitaxi) driver. To get the license was a mammoth task due to the number of documents I had to submit and the paperwork I had to go through. When they failed to renew my license, I had to work without it for two years, risking a fine or confiscation of the vehicle. Finally, I got tired of it and sold the vehicle and I bought me a handcart. Yet, the inspectors broke my life to pieces as I was forced to move the cart constantly from one place to another, until one day I found an inspector who was willing to turn a blind eye for a few malangas, a few heads of garlic and a few pounds of beans. But one morning, when he came to collect the levy, I told him: ‘Go to hell!’ and I sold the handcart and applied for a permit to set up a food stall. After getting through the necessary paperwork (which I wouldn’t wish upon anybody), I obtained the necessary authorization. I made a minor investment and opened a small shop in the doorway, but the inspectors came and told me that I had to move it one meter further inside. Just imagine the cost of materials and the labour! I sent them to hell and knocked the shop down. Now I’m selling plastic bags and that’s it.”