Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Organization in the Gas Line

Organization in the Gas Line
November 28, 2012
Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — It's 10:00 am and raining every few minutes, but I'm
merrily heading on my way home. I was just able to buy a gas canister.

"Gas is here," is the most common expression heard these days in Zones 7
and 8 in the Alamar housing project neighborhood.

The customary crises at our gas cylinder sales point, which brings so
many consumers together, reaches a climax in December. This year it has
started a little earlier, and since early November the lines have been

Why is this?

Although no one with any real knowledge of the details of the problem is
explaining things to the public, and though it's known that the gas
company hasn't stopped producing gas, at this particular sales outlet
there aren't enough gas canisters delivered daily. This is what causes a
long line of "outstanding buyers" (people who don't succeed in switching
out there tanks on their assigned day).

The bottom line of the situation could be a bad distribution system,
since other distribution outlets in the general area functioning properly.

The list

In the midst of this nonsense, people are attempting to organize. They
decided to create lists, some of which work, others that don't.

For example, one person who doesn't get a canister on their assigned day
is put on a community-generated list, which means correcting the numbers
on the official list and spending the early mornings monitoring the area
for people trying to get in line early ahead of their number.

What they need to do is get a new number in line; of course this doesn't
respect the place of people on the official list.

However sometimes these lists work, as was the case with the one I was
on, where I had the number 255 from Monday to Thursday. Of course the
organizational capacity of whoever is overseeing the list is critical.

In this case, someone came up with the idea of posting the list in front
of their house and organizing monitors (every hour a different person
takes a turn). This avoided a parallel list that could then allow people
to argue over who has priority.

Once this mechanism was established, when the list-keeper made their
purchase (he was one of the first people) this person handed over the
papers to another one who did a great job: this avoided people butting
in line and they confronted people's insults in an assertive but fair
and even handed manner. I hate to say it, but since the guy was tall,
strong and had a sharp voice — he was imposing in a certain respect —
that was what kept the hardheads from otherwise trying to destabilize

The people

Gas customers in the area are divided into three groups: the community,
the delivery guys and some kiosk vendors nearby who haven't been able to
sell their products during this period of scarcity. "People's priority,"
or their place in line, is constantly discussed.

It's the community that comes out worst in all of this, since the other
groups (though they occasionally fight) form clans and help each other
out. The individual consumers are each on their own and are more
vulnerable, depending on their age, sex or guts.

Extreme situations can bring out the best or the worst in people, and in
these types of lines you'll see everything from camaraderie with the
oldest people to the jerk-like behavior of people who steal or
manipulate the list to get themselves a better place in line.

That's what happened with the third list-keeper that had the 260th place
in line, though they made their purchase long before I did. If the
second list-keeper deserved applause (very few people thanked him), this
third one deserved our collective repudiation and mockery. But he didn't
receive any acknowledgement either. People aren't even aware of his

After all this, I doubt if the list will remain effective. When I went
for my canister there was still too much disorganization, which is what
cheaters take advantage of to cut in line.

Where are the authorities?

The police station is 50 meters from the gas canister sales outlet. On
one of the most contentious days, when machetes became involved
(according to what I was told), people went looking for the police.
However the law enforcement officers only suggested getting rid of the
lists and forming the line on a first-come first-serve basis. They then
left and haven't reappeared.

When there is high emotion, little gas and lots of desperation, trying
to maintain the line until the police arrive is useless. This encourages
anyone to allow their friend or neighbors to cut in front of them. But
the police only follow orders. If no one directs them to help keep the
line organized, there's therefore no reason for them to do anything.

Zones 7 and 8 of Alamar are expansive and well-populated. In these areas
converge two or three electoral districts, but no delegate has showed up
at any of these points of sale during this period.

None of them have sat to talk about the situation with their
constituents or with other local authorities — including the manager of
the gas company — to try to address the faulty distribution system or
create some mechanism for organizing the line when it breaks down.

If our delegates don't appear in times of crisis, when will they? This
is why, until we run into one that truly represents the interests of the
people — the people who elected them either by inertia or faith — I will
continue voiding my ballot in each election period.

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