Monday, August 22, 2016

Cuba's small merchants denounce a "crusade" against their businesses

Cuba's small merchants denounce a "crusade" against their businesses
ADRIANA ZAMORA | La Habana | 22 de Agosto de 2016 - 13:54 CEST.

Actions that many see as a crusade against small merchants continue in
Havana. The constant surveillance of small business stands has spurred
many sellers to close them, temporarily or permanently. Others have been
forced to do so after receiving visits by inspectors.

Aleyda, who sold housewares, closed her stand after receiving a Warning
Notice in which she was advised that she would lose her license if she
offered customers an unauthorized product or service.

"I thought about it, did the numbers, and decided to return the
license," she says. "The items I was not allowed to sell, like cables
and outlets, were those that sold best and allowed me to pay for it."

According to Aleyda, inspectors began to constantly visit her business.
"It was no longer enough to pick the things up when they came, because
they showed up at random, and they were no longer municipal inspectors,
but provincial ones, who did not even identify themselves, and came and
took photos of the merchandise. We only learned that they were
inspectors afterwards, when they arrived in clothing identifying
themselves as such, and their IDs."

Raydel, who was also licensed to sell housewares, but in another
municipality, shares a story similar to Aleyda's.

"They started to come almost every day, some without identifying
themselves as inspectors, to catch us off guard," he says.

"The problem with provincial inspectors is that we do not know who they
are," he adds. "The small merchants usually have arrangements with the
municipal inspectors. In some places they even warm them when an
inspection is coming, so they can pick up everything illegal before they

Some vendors did not even receive the Warning Notice.

"Nobody gave me anything. They didn't even warn me," says Raydel. "When
they came it was to seize my goods and confiscate my license."

The permit for the sale of household goods is not covered by the
simplified system of self-employment. Those who have this license pay
monthly and social security taxes, and have to file a sworn return at
the end of the year.

"We pay a fortune," says Aleyda. "And we can't make that selling hangers
and clotheslines, which is what we have permission to sell."

"They know that very well," says Raydel. "Anyone can see that it is the
other things - cables, paint - that allow us to pay for the licenses.
Nobody makes that much selling kitchen towels."

Raydel was slapped with a fine of 1,500 Cuban pesos, and had goods
confiscated from him worth about 2,000 CUC.

"I watched them as they were writing the seizure record, and they took
merchandise for themselves," says Raydel. "They recorded five brushes
instead of six, or three wires, instead of four, which was what they
were actually taking from me. They did the same thing with almost all
the products, especially the illegal ones."

During inspections and confiscations neighbors and bystanders tend to
protest against the inspectors.

"They call them "abusive" and "shameless," says Aleyda.

Raydel says something similar also happened when his goods were seized.
"A passerby told them that they were corrupt, and that if they wanted us
to stop selling illegal things, they should sell them in stores at a
price people could afford."

"They ought to be inspecting themselves," he added. "If they take away
your license, in theory you cannot get it back, and you have to get a
different one. But I've seen people who have had the same license three
times, and that wouldn't happen if there weren't corruption in the
Government, which is approving them."

"Here there is illegal business and corruption in many state
institutions. It's already widespread in Cuba," says Aleyda. "But there
are many Party members living off it, so nobody steps in. Instead they
go after the people, who have nothing else to offer them, those of us
who are not members of the Party."

"The solution is always to "throw the baby out with the bathwater,"
especially because they don't like the 'babies,'" says Raydel. "Instead
of solving the shortages at the shops, and the extremely high prices of
things, they come after us. And you know what they're going to tell you:
the stores are empty because of us, who buy to resell. That's not true,
but they have to blame us, so they will continue to say that.

Despite the pressure, both Aleyda and Raydel plan to get other small
business licenses in the near future.

"You've got to work," says Aleyda, "but not for the State. For the State
... I'd rather die."

Source: Cuba's small merchants denounce a "crusade" against their
businesses | Diario de Cuba -

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