Saturday, November 22, 2014

Shadow Market

Shadow Market / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz
Posted on November 21, 2014

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, 20 November 2014 — In the shadow of the
doorways on Galleno Street in Havana, a young man shows several pairs of
sunglasses that he has encased in a piece of polystyrene foam, popularly
known as polyfoam. The improvised showcase is kept in a travel bag that
can easily be moved. At his side, a girl announces in a low voice:
"Colgate toothpaste, deodorant, cologne."

Suddenly the young man grabs the polystyrene containing the spectacles,
as if he were really dealing with a suitcase, and both walk away, their
step and pulse accelerating. They disappear within a hallway. They wait.
Fifteen minutes later they come out and place themselves again in a
stretch of the same street. For the moment, they have managed to cheat
the inspectors and the police.

They sell their wares clandestinely in order to survive. They risk being
detained by the police, who confiscate their products and impose fines
for "hoarding." The fines can reach 3,000 pesos. Frequently they incur
debts because they get the merchandise from a "wholesale" supplier to
earn, at maximum, 1 to 3 CUC.

On many occasions it is the Cuban stewardesses or other workers or state
officials with the privilege of going abroad and buying in any
supermarket, together with the "mules," each day more hounded, who
manage to get through customs controls some batch of basic necessities.
The street vendors are the last card in that business deck. "We live
daily on what we manage to make. It is not enough to save. If you live
for food you can't buy clothes and if you live for clothes you can't
eat," they contend.

She has a bachelor's degree in nursing, and her identity card places her
at some address in Ciego de Avila province. That is why she cannot get
hired as a nurse in the capital: "I think that from Pinar del Rio to
Guantanamo is Cuba. But as I was not born here (in Havana), I have no
address here, I cannot work. I am illegal in my country." But she does
not complain: "The salaries are so low that I would have to leave my job
as a nights-and-weekend nurse and sell in the street if I want to buy
myself, for example, a pair of shoes."

For his part, he has a tailor's license and is authorized to sell
homemade clothes. "The licenses mean nothing in this country. To sell
ready-made clothes, they ask for a ton of papers to know where you
bought the thread, the cloth and even the buttons. The government always
wins and we do nothing but lose. They charge you taxes to sell what the
licenses authorize but also they are charging you taxes for the prices
that they fix for raw materials. That's why we have to buy and sell on
the black market," he explains. The earnings for selling homemade
ready-made clothes are minimal.

In January of this year the government prohibited the sale of imported
clothes or any imported article. So that after paying for the tailor's
license and the familiar taxes, he comes out to sell eyeglasses, ready
to run from the authorities. "I get these glasses at five CUC for two,
sometimes three CUC. I did not steal them from anyone. And if the police
come, they take them from me. They have already confiscated from me
about three times." In spite of the persecution, he has a powerful
reason to continue going out to sell: "If I lie down to sleep, we die of
hunger at home."

Both youngsters report that there are days when they sell nothing. "The
whole day on foot from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon,
running from here to there: if not the inspector, then the police, or
the surveillance cameras."

According to them, there are cameras installed on the corners. Thus they
suffer the enormous disadvantage of not being able to see who is
watching them. The girl indicates a column: "That wall covers the camera
that is at the corner and that is why we stop here. We already have them
figured, because if not they order to search for you because of the
camera. For example, they order to search for the one who has the black
blouse, which can be me." In this atmosphere of tension and fear of
being discovered, this subsistence economy unfolds.

The government harasses the mobile vendors while it woos the big
companies of global capitalism. Cuba does not look attractive for those
who undertake the economic path of mere survival. Not even legally.
That's why so many young people want to leave the island.

Translated by MLK

Source: Shadow Market / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz | Translating Cuba -

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