In and Out of Cuba

Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES — ??Juan Carlos Fuentes is one of my neighbors in Cojimar, a small fishing village on the eastern outskirts of Havana. He’s a retired fisherman who now makes his living in a rather strategic manner: buying clothes in Panama and selling them in Havana.

Several years ago he got into the business, which he discovered by chance when some Panamanians friends invited him to their country.

“I sell my merchandise cheap so that I can get rid of it quickly and start traveling again. “‘Time is money,’ as the Americans say,” he told me. “What’s more, sometimes you have to know how to lose in order to win in the long run, but in this business there are some pretty high risks. You can lose everything all at once.”

Juan Carlos then described how one time they confiscated his ten suitcases — full of clothes — because they were over the weight limit. He explained that though he’s almost always over the weight limit, usually nothing happens. The problem is that sometimes the customs people “decide to do their jobs and crack down.”

This happens rarely, according to Juan Carlos, but that time it was his turn, which cost him nearly $3,000 worth of clothing. Following that setback, it took him almost two years to raise the money to leave again.

In the meantime he returned to his former occupation, fishing – which, incidentally, can bring in some good money.

Still, it doesn’t compare to selling clothes. With each trip to Panama, Juan Carlos clears the equivalent of about $300 USD, so if he can make three or four trip a month, it’s not a bad piece of change at all.

Here in the neighborhood, many people ask why he decided not to stay and live in Panama. He always responds saying: “People there live well. They have good jobs and eat well, but you can’t make enough money to realize the Cuban dream: to unite and help your family, and to come back here from time to time to do things you’d never been able to do.”


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.