Sunday, March 22, 2015

Wheeling and Dealing with Plastic

Wheeling and Dealing with Plastic / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz
Posted on March 22, 2015

Markets all over the Island are supplied with objects made on the
illegal circuit of a material mostly derived from industrial waste or
leftovers from the dump

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 20 March 2015 – At the market of La
Cuevita in San Miguel del Padron, some thousand people from all over the
Island daily buy household goods, flip-flops and toys, all made of
plastic. The purchasers come especially from rural areas where the
economic situation is more precarious and the only thing that abounds is

In order to sell in the market it is necessary to have a state license
and a letter signed by the producers, also authorized, from whom the
articles must be bought. The inspectors who pass through the sales
stalls may require this letter, but in practice they pass with hand
extended seeking money in exchange for not imposing a fine of 1,500
pesos on whoever has skipped the State's rules of the game.

There are many manufacturers who have no license. In the Cotorro
township flip-flops are manufactured and in La Guinera, a settlement
located in San Miguel del Padron, there are producers of household
goods. The toys, with twisted forms and faded colors, are brought from
the eastern part of the country.

The first step is gathering the recyclable plastic among the wastes of
industrial smelting and rummaging through the garbage in search of
plastic items that can be exploited, without discarding the possibility
of melting the trash cans themselves. In order to improve the quality of
the final product, the manufacturers add virgin plastic. This granulated
raw material is bought under the table, gotten directly from state

The mishmash is heated. When the material is quite melted it is injected
under pressure into various molds. The injecting machines as well as the
molds are produced by hand. When it liquefies, the homogenized paste
takes on an earthy color, but artisans save the day using different
colored dyes.

According to one of these artisans, who allows no photos on his patio,
in many neighborhoods of the capital the police would have to search
patio by patio and house by house because "reality is stubborn," as he
learned many years ago in a Communist Party school. "Even beer can be
canned clandestinely," he says. "Such machines are all over Havana.
Where you least imagine it, there is one. The problem is to make the
product and get it immediately out so that the chain is not discovered."

The bowls and plates, funnels or any other object resulting from this
mix of materials are not completely safe for storage of food intended
for human consumption. "I don't use any of the bowls that I buy in the
candonga for keeping food from one day to the other. But they are
cheaper than those made in China which are sold in the hard currency
stores and cost a third of a worker's salary," says Morena, a housewife
who frequents the market.

The vendors place themselves at the entrance to the market. Some offer
strings of onion and garlic, others little nylon bags. An old lady sells
a bag of potatoes that she has just bought after a long line, and a teen
carries a box of ice where he keeps popsicles that sell for 15 Cuban
pesos. They often have to go running. A patrol passes every twenty minutes.

"If you resist arrest, they beat you. Then they take you to the 11th
Police Station, and railroad you and you don't know if you'll come out
with a fine of 1,500 Cuban pesos or go directly to the Valle Grande
prison," says the popsicle salesman.

A man in his forties recounts how the police detained him once, accusing
him of retailing without any proof, and they asked him for his identity
card just because he was carrying a briefcase full of plastic plates
that he had just bought. "It would be of no use to say it is my hobby to
throw them in the air to practice my slingshot aim. Just like if they
want to they seize everything and give you a fine. The police do not act
for the benefit of the people," he laments.

Mireya, almost seventy years of age, is the last link in the productive
chain of plastic products. While others work in little brigades for a
particular producer, authorized or not, she does it alone. She has put
together brooms and brushes manually, with production wastes from state
industry, for more than 20 years. "If they catch me doing this I can
have serious problems with the authorities. I don't do it to get rich. I
have to assemble 100 brushes to earn 400 Cuban pesos [about $16 U.S.],
and from that I have to invest part in order to buy the materials," she

Mireya does not want to get a license because she thinks the taxes are
too high. Besides, she could not justify the materials that she uses to
fabricate her brooms because, in spite of dealing with industrial waste,
there exists no legal way of acquiring them. The bases and the bristles
she buys from someone who, like her, has no license either and sells
them more cheaply.

"What I would have left after paying for the license and the taxes would
be more or less the same as the wage of a state worker. With that, added
to my pension of 270 pesos, I can't even live ten days. If you don't
believe what I am saying, take the rice and beans from the store, divide
it into 30 piles to see how you eat and how you live. Then necessarily
you have to live wheeling and dealing," she concludes without ceasing to
close the plastic threads with wire pincers.

Translated by MLK

Source: Wheeling and Dealing with Plastic / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz |
Translating Cuba -

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