Daisy Valera

The Carlos III Mall. The banner says Work Hard

I was walking down Salvador Allende Avenue, and —since I hate the August sun on this island— I went into to one of the malls most frequented in Havana: Plaza Carlos III.

The air conditioning in Carlos III made me forget a little about my dehydration and almost getting sun burned.

Since my objective was not to buy anything, but to escape the heat, I spent the time walking around window-shopping and people-watching.

The image of the store reminds me somewhat of our society.

Two large groups of people can clearly be distinguished.

There’s one group of those who drink beer, eat pizza or ice cream, play pool and place their children in the rides in the store’s mini amusement park.

The other group is made up of those people who go to the cheapest departments to buy articles of basic necessity – like soap, detergent and other small less expensive items.

Carlos III Plaza offers us a sad show.

There are some departments where salespeople with smiling faces will select a $60 perfume for you.  However, there are other stores crammed with people —their faces showing absolute fatigue— who stand in lines waiting to buy the worse quality shampoo for about a buck.

Through the plate glass windows of the glitzy stores, you can find items as unusual as car seats for infants.

But is there anyone in Cuba who can afford a car seat for $98?

Or is there anyone in Cuba who can afford a car?

It was interesting looking in the stores.  In one aisle you might find an 18-year-old girl mopping the floor and in another one there will be a clerk, in a very short mini skirt and towering high-heels, smoking a cigarette like a Hollywood diva from the ‘50s.

A regular picture-tube TV costs the equivalent of US $500, and washing machines go for $375.

With this, you have to keep in mind that the average monthly wage in Cuban is $20 a month and that people can only buy these goods in these stores

The arcade area was decorated with two huge posters reading “Work Hard” and “Yes You Can.”

The truth is that I couldn’t even afford an apple, which would have set me back 45 cents.

I finally left, preferring the scorching heat to the spectacle that I found way too depressing.

I hope the posters aren’t wrong, and that by working hard we can overcome the increasing income gap between people in Cuba.  In the meanwhile, I’ll continue putting up with the sun in the hot streets of Havana.


Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

One thought on “Dime Stores and Designer Boutiques

  • Another very interesting article, especially for people like me who knows very, very little about Cuba.
    I thought the worse part is not that knowing there are two groups of people, it is knowing you will not be able to move to the other group, you will not have the chance, hope or dream. That makes the poster so much more hurtful and depressing.
    On the other hand, for a lot of people, dreams are just that, dreams, wherever they are.
    Cheer up, Miss Valera, life is too short.
    By the way, who makes up the second group (the ones who can afford apples)? Doctors? Trades people, small business owners? How does it work?

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