HAVANA TIMES— Flowery spandex pants and blouses with open backs are invading the streets of Havana. The striped-shirt craze seems to be blowing over. Cubans seem to go insane over clothing and fashion, and the whole city seems to be one huge masquerade at times.
Clothing is a serious thing in Cuba. The authorities, who supervised the birth of hundreds of privately-operated boutiques and saw to their sudden death within the span of a year, attest to this. Now, to my dismay, they are stealthily doing away with thrift clothing stores.
The year 2014 could well go down in history as the “Year of the War against the Textile Industry.”
As I recall, I was able to throw together an outfit for myself for the first time thanks to so-called “rag-stores.” Back in 2000, my mother bought me a green tank-top and a pair of checkered shorts (rather unusual and unforgettable pieces of clothing). As an adult, nearly all of the clothing I’ve been able to afford on my salary has been the used clothing sold at these stores.
There, with a bit of patience, one can find new pairs of pants (with the price tag still attached) and jackets that would cost as much as 20 CUC ($22 USD) at a State hard currency store, hidden among 80s sports jackets and gigantic out-of-style dresses.
In 2011, the State announced it was considering discontinuing the sale of these products because it could no longer afford to pay the suppliers (without mentioning who these were), but no store was dismantled then.
A little over a week ago, I walked down Havana’s San Rafael boulevard and saw that all of the used clothing sections in the hardware and craft markets there had vanished. I saw a man pushing a cart with a large bundle of clothing on it and asked him where he was taking it. “To some warehouse,” replied the confused laborer.
For a number of days, I thought it could be an “aesthetic” decision. San Rafael is quite close to the city’s tourist circuit and the sight of Cubans crouching down in front of piles of tattered clothes, hoping to find something decent and cheap to wear, isn’t exactly good publicity for a socialism set on “updating” itself.
It wasn’t until I saw that this was also happening at neighborhood stores such as the one located at the intersection of Neptuno and Aramburu streets or on the Calzada de Infanta, in front of the Parque de los Martires, that I began to worry.
Used clothing, with prices oscillating between 70 and 35 Cuban pesos (3.5 and 1.75 USD) for a pair of pants and a blouse, respectively, while certainly not cheap when set against an average Cuban salary, was at least an option for people.
Its disappearance – definitive, by the looks of it – leaves low-income people at the mercy of the black market and the extremely poor-quality clothing imported by the State and sold at hard-currency stores. The official press seems to be ignoring a situation that could well affect broad sectors of the population.