Iván García, Translator: Unstated
In these April days while the communists of the government party met for
four days in the Palace of Conventions, to the west of Havana, newspaper
vendors had a party.
Bartolo, a nearly blind old man, doubled sales of Granma that he offers
every morning in the dirty doorways of the Calzada 10 de Octubre.
Azucena, a thin lady with frog eyes, also is smiling again. He sold some
150 newspapers a day, three times what she usually sells.
The paper selling business offers meager profits. All these old people
get up at 4:30 in the morning, just as the prostitutes and pimps start
going to bed. After standing in line for three hours, they buy fifty
Granmas and an equal number of Rebel Youth.
They buy them at 20 cents and sell them for a peso (a nickel on the U.S.
dollar). They usually have clients who pay 40 or 50 pesos a week (almost
two dollars), for them to put the morning papers under their doors.
That's not the end of their suffering. Under a blazing sun, they walk
daily between 5 and 10 kilometers to sell 100 copies of the boring local
news. If they sell them all, at the end of the day will have earned 70
to 75 pesos. And believe me, they have to work miracles.
The Cuban press is pure lead. A pamphlet in the style of Pyongyang.
Therefore, to sell a hundred papers every day they have to call on their
ingenuity. In bad times, when baseball and news of interest is
distinguished by its absence, these old men put all their skills into it.
In July 2010, when Raul Castro negotiated the release of political
prisoners with the Catholic Church and the then Spanish Foreign Minister
Miguel Angel Moratinos, the vendors cried: "Hey, the abuse ended. The
political prisoners aren't going home. They're off to Madrid."
In their effort to boost sales that even invent news. Many people on the
island do not read newspapers and they just buy Granma to read the TV
schedule or the sports page.The sheets also are used to wrap garbage or
for toilet paper.
So to call out a striking headling is the hook so people don't pass by
without putting a paper under their arm. And the news of the Sixth
Congress was a good excuse to increase sales.
On Sunday, April 17, there was no way to find a paper in all of Havana.
Some vendors were offering them at three pesos. They loudly announced,
"Elections are coming to Cuba, within ten years," or "Elections for
president every 5 years," or "Starting tomorrow, sales of houses and cars."
Bartolo prefered to shout a more complete title: "Don't wait to hear it
from others, find out for yourself, elections in Cuba, Raul Castro
retires in 2021. The Yankees have nothing for us to envy."
People flocked to buy Granma. At the bus stop, readers wondered if the
ten years that the General announced as a maximum time to stay in power
started in 2008, when he took over the country, or at end of the VI
Congress. It did not matter.
The important thing for all these poor elderly Cubans was not the 'good
news' they hawked, it was the winning streak they were one over the four
days the Congress lasted.
The first day of the event, Bartolo 'went to bed' early. After 12 hours
of walking and shouting out newspapers, he eats, for 20 pesos, a boxed
meal with rice and black beans, yucca and pork steak and drinks almost
two liters of rum bully. When it got dark, he prepared cartons that
serve as his bed in a doorway of Calzada de 10 de Octubre. Until
tomorrow. Good night and good luck.
April 22 2011