The intermediary at centre stage  

Among the characters of a new type who have moved to the Cuban social centre stage in recent years, the intermediary (or go-between) holds a visible, noted place in any of the service spaces. Their performance is never protagonist but rather it is secondary, but their role always calls attention. But how is this manifested? What is their field of action? What do they control (or put out of control)?

Foto: Archivo IPS-Cuba

The Dictionary of the Spanish Language characterises the intermediary thus: (From to intermediate): Said of a supplier, shopkeeper, etc.: Who mediates between two or more persons, and especially between the producer and the consumer of goods or merchandise”; while the go-between is someone who “acts by brokering relations between two or more persons or entities.”

Intermediation is necessary in the sphere of marketing. It is clear that, before getting to the retail market for its marketing, products require a wholesale distributor; and there are different types of intermediaries, who carry out different functions depending on the entrepreneurial activity.

 

In Cuba, when intermediaries are mentioned the first thing that comes to mind is those persons who mediate between agricultural products and consumers. There is a network of intermediaries from one tip to the other of the chain, from when the product leaves the field until it gets to the market; and later, in the latter, there are others. A lot has been written about that intermediation.

 

But there are many other fields where we find intermediaries, especially in the sphere of services in high demand, like passenger transportation. There those characters have multiplied their options and even modified the rules of the game, taking advantage of the diversity of scenarios.

 

URBAN BUSES

 

The buses in Havana have witnessed the appearance of very peculiar intermediaries becausethey have “hired” themselves. They are a driver’s assistant and they mediate between the collection box and the passengers. Of course, to speed up passengers getting on the bus, these assistants, also called co-pilots, collect the money and deposit it in the hands of the driver.

 

In their efforts to collect the largest amount of money in the less time possible, the collectors sow chaos because they divert the passengers toward the exit doors, where veritable crowds are formed.

 

It is curious that many years after the conductors were eliminated, whose function was to get paid for the exact rate and give out a ticket, now the “self-employed” collectors carry out a similar function, but they don’t give the change or the ticket. And even more curious (funny, in popular language) is that the officials of the urban bus enterprise affirm that those persons are not authorised to carry out such tasks. But they exist.

 

COLLECTIVE TAXIS

 

In the pickup points of collective taxis (read “almendrones”) another intermediary has emerged, a sort of promoter-coordinator, a mediator between travellers and drivers who organises and controls the order of the line (of cars and passengers). For that function they receive a significant amount of money from the drivers.

 

PARKING SPACES

 

The persons who take care of the parking spaces are intermediaries between the public space and the driver, or cyclist, or motorcyclist, in need of security for their vehicle. Havana, perhaps as no other city, is full of these persons, that is, administrators of the public space.

 

The first emergence of parking spaces took place in the 1990s with the mass arrival of Chinese bicycles.  After that, since the amount of vehicles was growing, new needs came up that gave rise to new “strugglers”.

 

BATHROOMS

 

Just like those persons in charge of parking spaces have proliferated, so have the “administrators of bathrooms” in state-run institutions and entities, in addition to those existing in public spaces. Their intermediation in these places helps to maintain their hygiene, which is beneficial. They are also struggling.

 

HOUSING

 

In recent times, the so-called “agents” for swapping houses modified the term for that of intermediary, perhaps due to the loss of prestige they had suffered. They have currently been replaced by agencies (more trustworthy intermediaries) and the web sites with classified ads, but the persons who mediate between the needs of swapping or selling/buying houses have still survived.

 

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

 

The intermediary is a sort of self-employed agent of services and of all types of goods and merchandise. They mediate between the needs of consumers and the product or service, much more if it is in short supply. They are “struggling,” “resolving,” in all the possible spaces, those that were already open and those which they have sought.

 

The mentality of offering a service, beyond the thought of producing and creating, in recent times is responsible for that multitude of intermediaries, of “strugglers”, but also the  lack of functionality of entities and companies: they create those gaps, those cracks that are occupied in the struggle for daily subsistence. (2016)

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