From the Sidewalk Back

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Bird seller on Opispo St. in Old Havana. Photo: Caridad

To get to work today, I took Obispo Street at the hour the stores were opening for business.  From a distance I could see a mass of people had gathered, which made me immediately think that a line had formed to buy God knows what.

Prompted by the crowd that I was approaching, I imagined the question some Canadian might pose before such a phenomenon would be, “Why are there so many people here?”  In that same vein, a Mexican would probably comment: “You guys get in line for everything.”  Notwithstanding, any Cuban would simply ask, “Who’s the last in line?”

Although I didn’t feel the need to mark my place in that line, I went closer for a better look at this spectacle, which was already turning violent as I approached.  It was easy to understand why there was such disorder.  People were trying to get into the store, almost breaking the glass door, despite the efforts of the employees to prohibit entry until a line was organized.

At that very moment a police officer showed up.  He made a quick study of the situation and, with his walkie-talkie in hand, called for backup from his closest fellow law officers.  Other people like me had stopped at a distance to watch the mass of would-be buyers jockeying for position.  Beside me a woman exclaimed, “Those are the resellers who are starting all this trouble.”

I then understood that most of the people who had gathered there wanted to buy some product to resell them later elsewhere to make a profit.

One of the police officers who finally made it to the front door of the store said, “Everybody in a line, from the sidewalk back, from the sidewalk back.”  He had to muster his patience to not begin pushing the crowd, which continued their assault just the same until —better late than never— a real line finally took shape.

I turned back to the woman who remained there with me.  To her sudden laughter she added: “Good God my son, look at that line.  They’re gonna sell scouring pads!”

One thought on “From the Sidewalk Back

  • This is absurd. The original concept of socialism, the concept that was born of the working classes, was that society would be greatly enriched under socialism because the employees would now own the means of production directly and cooperatively. Greater productivity at the workplace therefore would result in both greater take-home pay and greater job satisfaction for the employee associates.

    Then two non-working class Germans injected the concept into the socialist movement that socialism meant that the state, not the workers, would own all the land and means of production. This screwball “state monopoly” concept was the one forced on the Russian people, and then imported into Cuba.

    If the sincere revolutionaries in Cuba will wake up and realize that a return to the original concept of socialism as cooperative is what is needed, the sort of absurdity revealed in this article will soon disappear. Yes, members of the loyal opposition, I’m talking to you.

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