My Own Crash on Monday

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — On Monday, August 24, the world’s main stock markets suffered their worst trading in years. What I would like to focus on, however, is the collapse of my own “company” a mere week later.


lunes-negro3In the past few months (and especially during the ultra-hot summer season), I’ve been transporting ham and cheese sandwiches around the city. Almost every day, I take one or two hundred sandwiches from the place where they make them to the sales points, carrying them on my bicycle and sometimes by bus.

With this “killer” and tax-free business, I would be back home by noon with one or two dollars in my pocket, ready to get some rest, enjoy life, read, write and help out with the house chores, which always abound.

They stopped me near Prado and Neptuno, in Old Havana. When I saw the patrol car swerve and cut me off I thought they were after a drug dealer. Imagine my surprise when I saw them head towards me, the sandwich dealer.

The police officer asked to see the documents authorizing me to make these deliveries and, as I didn’t have any such documents, took me for a ride in the patrol car. On the way to the station, they checked up on me via the radio and were informed I was on record for disturbing the peace.

Last year, a drunkard attacked me for no reason. I’m a peaceful man (perhaps a little too peaceful for this world), but I had no choice but to defend myself. The police then showed up and made no distinction: they put us both in a cell and added a stain to my record.

The day I decide to launch my career as a dissident, Cuba’s political police could affirm, on the basis of official documents, that “this individual is nothing other than a common, violent and tax-evading criminal.” But let’s not get sidetracked.

Of all the jail cells in the city, the deluxe suite must be the one located at the station on Cuba and Chacon streets. I don’t think there’s any other cell with as many windows and as much fresh air as the one I was put in on my bad Monday. There were two guys sleeping on the benches and a third man emptying his bowels in an open latrine. He couldn’t stop shaking. His nerves must have gotten the better of his intestines.

One enters a jail cell expecting to find an aggressive environment and ends up feeling sympathy and compassion. At first, I was also very nervous but I decided to breathe deeply and calmly and I managed to relax completely. I thought of my family. They were probably worried I wasn’t back yet.

They let me out about an hour later. Two female inspectors, telling me they felt sorry for me, informed me I had violated Decree Law 315 and that I had to pay a fine of 1,500 Cuban pesos (some seventy-five dollars).

That’s more or less what I’ve earned this summer, getting up in the early morning, pedaling my bike under a scorching sun that’s damaged my skin and filling my lungs with diesel smoke.

The net result of all my work this summer is an empty wallet, smoked lungs, stains on my skin and another stain on my now long police record.

I think it’s great to have strict laws and law and order officials who enforce them, but, in the case of errand people, I think they’re turning the screws a little too much. Many self-employed business owners informally hire people to run errands for them, take out the trash or look after their properties at night. A whole bunch of low income people make a living this way. The police and inspectors go after errand people viciously but re-sellers roam freely. Everyone knows where they are, where they can be found in large numbers…everyone except the police, it seems.

Why don’t I take out a license or get a normal job? I would love to have a stable and socially useful job that will give me the minimum to live comfortably. I will answer these questions in a future post so as not to make this one too long.

7 thoughts on “My Own Crash on Monday

  • Well, all I can say is this: at least he is working and trying to eke out a living. Have you seen the many young people hanging around the parks lately doing absolutely nothing and many drinking the swill they call alcohol? Reminds if the time, when I asked a friend what he thought of the unemployment problem in Cuba. His reply, “There are lot of potholes in the streets.” I rest my case.

  • He was a delivery man. Reread the post. I have lived as many days under “true socialism” as you have. Why is that John? You know it is because socialism as you define it only exist in your mind. You continue to ignore my simple and straightforward request for you to cite even one credible source that corroborates your definition of socialism. By credible I mean that your mom’s opinion doesn’t count.

  • You don’t know what socialism is .
    I’d like to know where, in what country you can operate a food business without inspections and licensing for food safety
    Erasmo promises to explain hese things in future postings.
    Why don’t YOU try selling sandwiches in San Francisco and see how long the police allow you to do so.
    Not every noise you hear in the woods at night is a bear .

  • Bad deal Erasmo! Don’t give up! To bad we can’t get a for you. Hang in there, it’s coming! Just a side note there was an enterprising young man in Brooklyn who tried to sell loose cigarettes and was confronted by the NYC police and is now dead. A bad call from both sides of the straits.

  • It’s exactly this kind of inane government repression that Cubans who live in Cuba call the “internal embargo”. I defy Terry Downey, Monseigneur Gomezz or John Goodrich to blame this nonsense on the US embargo. This is Castro-style socialism run amuck. There is no other excuse for it.

  • I just hope that the Castro family regime supporters enjoy reading about Erasmo’s problem and realise that the State Police are as usual ensuring that the people of Cuba are suitably repressed.
    They should note also that he hoped to earn one or two dollars per day, which is in excess of average earnings in Cuba, being on par or above those of a Doctor or schoolteacher. Such excess cannot be permitted by the regime.

  • We all know how dangerous ham and cheese sandwiches can be, but serious. In a country with arbitrary laws, this could have been a competitor or jealous Cuban “echandolo para lante”

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