Havana's La Cuevita: From Illegal to Official Market
March 20, 2015
Regina Cano (Photos: Juan Suarez)
HAVANA TIMES — Months ago, a licensed crafts and assorted products
market was opened in the municipality of San Miguel del Padron, very
close to the location of an informal market that used to be set up in
the area. The new, official market is meant to absorb the vast majority
of vendors that once made up the previous, illegal market, known as La
The new market, also named La Cuevita, is located a few blocks away from
the area taken up by the previous market, one of the largest underground
sales points the outskirts of Havana has seen since 1959. While many
such illegal markets emerged and proliferated in the city over the
years, most have disappeared quickly or been set up only sporadically.
La Cuevita, in contrast, had been in operation for close to 7 years.
Now that self-employment has been authorized and sale licenses have been
made available, new business opportunities have emerged and those
willing to pay taxes have been grouped in an open and fenced-in area
prepared by the authorities, where anything whose origins can be
accounted for may be sold – anything from products made through
recycling processes to crafts or "homemade" items using a broad range of
materials, such as plastic, glass and certain metals.
The fact of the matter is that, when someone in Havana is in need of any
one crucial product (for personal or domestic use), a product they
cannot fix or replace because of their low wages or the fact these
products are not readily available at State and private stores, they
invariably start to think and plan their next trip to La Cuevita.
I recently visited the market to get up to speed on these new
developments. The first thing I noticed is that, despite the
government's intention of making the informal sales points disappear,
people who need to put food on their tables still manage to maintain
their black market activities.
The black market area began at an alley surrounded by makeshift and
ramshackle homes and spilled into a neighboring street, extending into
what was once a small urban settlement and is today a sprawling shanty,
spreading along the length of the river that cuts through the area.
Before, this black market was stocked by a series of tiny, illegal
assembly plants and products brought from abroad or stolen from State
factories (which, incidentally, are currently stocking the new market).
There, one could find just about anything, even a coffin.
Word on the street has it that some plastic items that have strange and
rather ugly colors are made from recycled garbage bins, the ones that
are disappearing from Havana's street corners.
Whatever we may think about the risks involved in buying "stuff" without
knowing where it came from or what harm its use may cause us (in Cuba,
one can never be 100 percent sure as to the effects of things we
frequently buy), people tend to take their families shopping to places
where prices match their wages, as is probably the case in other parts
of the world, as poverty tends to be the same the world over.
The police tend to crack down on these illegal sale points, or to deploy
inspectors and officers on a regular basis to keep an eye on them. This
may help fill the State coffers with fines and confiscated items and
increase the number of locals who are summoned to trials or incarcerated
for breaking the law, but the market is always reborn – sometimes within
seconds – rising from the ashes like the Phoenix.
Source: Havana's La Cuevita: From Illegal to Official Market - Havana
Times.org - http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=110117