Nearly all the families living in Guajoyo receive an electricity subsidy, which means they pay anywhere from $2-$14 a month for electricity to operate things like lights, the radio, and the occasional refrigerator. Several months ago, the man from the electric company who used to come every month on his motorcycle to deliver people’s bills (there’s no mail service in Guajoyo) was assaulted en route and all the bills were stolen. Since then, the company has ceased to come read the meters and deliver people’s bills, which means a costly trip into Usulutan (about an hour and a half in the bus and $1.25 each way) each month.
This month when people got their bills, for most they were exaggeratedly high; someone who usually owed $9 was being charged $37, and some were as high as $150 or even $209. For most, that amount of money simply doesn’t exist at any one moment.
But the thing about a community like Guajoyo is that things don’t happen quietly, and shortly after the first person received their unfair bill, the conversation at the mill, the soccer field, and in the pickup truck bringing people to and from town was about little other than how ridiculous the whole situation was. “I don’t know about you, but i’m going straight to the office on Monday morning to tell them I won’t pay a cent until they come and read the meters and charge us correctly” was the chorus of the heads of household.
Monday morning I loaded up on the 6:30am bus to go in solidarity and shake my fist with the rest of Guajoyo. As we waited for the connecting bus that would take us to Usulutan, the group of 15 congregated at the bus stop waved about their green and while electric bills, comparing notes on whose was most outrageous and who would lead up the talking when they got there.
The 20-something-year-old guard who met us at the door of the electric office seemed shocked to say the lease to see a mob of farmers at their door demanding to speak with a manager. We were politely ushered into the excessively air conditioned office where a touch screen computer spit out a slip of paper indicating the order in which each individual would be attended to, since there was no option on the screen for “Attention to Disgruntled Mob.”
One by one, as the computerized woman’s voice called up people’s numbers they approached the customer service cubicles, where everyone was given the same response: “We’re sorry for the inconvenience, we’ll send someone out to do an inspection and let you know the results.”
A few seemed satisfied with this answer, but the older members of the group who know what it looks like when country folk are walked on, insisted that they came for a real response, and they weren’t leaving until they got one. Besides, the customer service personnel said nothing about our complaints that they were no longer reading the meters and no longer delivering the bills. Again they refused to let us speak with a manager, so, relieved to be back in the mid morning sun, we shuffled out of the office without quite knowing where we were going.
It turns out the office of the higher-ups was another 2 hour bus ride away, and a taxi driver suggested we go to the Center of Government and place a complaint in the office of Consumers’ Rights. Refusing to pay the 20 cents to take the bus, the mob hiked the 9 or so blocks to the center of government.
To make things short, they told us that the company had the legal right to 15 days to resolve the issue, but if within 15 business days it was not resolved to our liking, we could take legal action through this office, but until then, it is a waiting game.
I have no doubt that the bills will be lowered, and the company might even start delivering the electric bills again and reading the meters, but one thing I know for sure: they have learned the lesson that Guajoyo is not a community of poor farmers to be messed with.