[Marxism] Cracking down on stolen gas

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Oct 20 10:13:01 MDT 2005

(Unusual, different and thoughtful look at gasoline theft here in 
Cuba where the phenomenon is one most drivers of private cars know
about from their own personal experience...)

Cracking down on stolen gas
By Manuel Alberto Ramy

Late Saturday night, October 15, thousands of young people with blue
T-shirts substituted the "pisteros" (service attendants) in gas
stations all over the country.

These young lads are Social Workers, as their blue T-shirts say,
members of the detachments formed to give direct assistance to
families and individuals who need special attention. From lone
elderly people to children with learning problems at school to
abandoned single mothers, ex convicts and young people that do not
study or work. They are the new vanguard that the Cuban government
has created to confront social problems.

Many of them were boys and girls that had a similar situation to the
ones some of those they assist now have: they left school and did not
have a job. If they had kept on that road, who knows if they would
have a future. Now they have gone from being rescued, to being social
rescuers. And based on the trust society has placed on them, they
assist in helping to stop "leaks" at gas stations.

The Problem

In Cuba, all gas, with the exception of that assigned at work
centers, is sold in convertible pesos, used to substitute dollars at
foreign currency stores. One liter of regular gas (one gallon has
3.78 liters) costs 0.72 cents; special grade is 0.92 cents. But for
some time now and "by way of the left hand," an expression used which
refers to illegal means, special gas may be bought at 0.50 cents a

The ways whereby gas is bought and sold in the black market are
varied, and some are part of a very dangerous chain of corruption and
graft, for it can start at the large storage centers, from where
cistern trucks transport the fuel, to the service stations.

"The figures in the dispatch documents were altered, and that extra
was sold at the service stations. and we all took our cut." That was
the story I heard from someone I know and whose name I omit. He was
caught red-handed and already has paid his debt to society.

According to his story, the practice creates a chain that includes
the dispatcher at the distribution center, the trucker and the
employees at the service station. It's a well-oiled mechanism of
graft and corruption that can create in turn other illegal

"How else can a gas station attendant have a good car unless he
steals?" my source adds. A basic salary for this job is 225 Cuban
pesos (not convertible ones).

Another way is to "fix" the pumps, which is a way to blame the
mechanism for bad numbers, in order to justify the missing fuel at
the end of the shift.

A common enough method is the manipulation done by attendants when
they pour gas directly into a car's fuel tank.

"It's very rare to find a gas pump that works automatically. You
know, punching in what the customer asks for. All day long it's
controlled by hand pressure, and that's one way to cheat customers
out of hundreds of liters in each shift. And that, we also sold for
our profit."

These and other forms of pilfering the gas supply "by way of the left
hand," amount to figures that the authorities can only suspect. In
order to make an approximation we would have to multiply thousands of
service stations by thousands of liters of gas.

Now, this job is in the hands of these Social Workers trained to
handle gas pumps and other procedures. Regular workers were sent home
on leave.

"My group was called and sent here", a young man, a little over 20,
tells me while he services my car at a gas station on 5th Avenue and
112th St., in Havana.

You don't pay him, but have to go to a small auto parts store that
belongs to the service station. There, you pay and get a ticket that
in turn you turn over to the attendant. Then he serves the gas.

"I don't know how long we are going to be here," says the young
social worker.

I think that he and his colleagues will be in this new job as long as
it takes the enterprise to check daily or weekly income with the
gross intake of previous times. In that manner they'll have a measure
of what was lost. Then the attendants on leave will come back to
work, but the income will have to be similar.

A problem solved?

"Stealing will go down for some time," says a motorist waiting in
line to be serviced.

"As long as money is scarce, there will be stealing and corruption,"
adds another one.

"Many essential products are sold in convertible currency," concludes
a lady.

It's true. Money is short; it's hard to make ends meet. And even if
there is no justification for stealing, the basis of the problem is
the economy.

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