Street vendors in Caracas.

HAVANA TIMES — I recently met several Cubans who came to Venezuela for a couple of weeks. Since I know how difficult it is to come to an unknown country and “find things” at prices affordable to our pockets, I offered to show them around, serving as a kind of guide. I always do that when I stumble on any of our people here.

Doing this is a little strange for me since normally the Cubans that leave the country for short trips on work reasons belong to a social status that’s different from mine or my friends.

Having the opportunity to leave Cuba is a serious matter, one of luck, no matter if it’s done frequently or once a year. Most of those who have jobs that allow them to leave the country every so often take care not to rock the boat, which means their having to repeat the official line.

What’s worse though, is that they even come to believe it (but again, not all of them).

Most in this group preferred not to touch on “the subject”, but it became uncorked last night. This was done by my partner (who I should explain is Venezuelan; and that no matter how hard she tries, she still gets “lost” trying to understand the “rules” of my country). She commented about Cuba’s new customs regulations, something that seems unfair to her.

The oldest member of this group — the one who had the most stamps in his passport — began explaining to my partner reasons for the new measures. But more than giving reasons, he was trying to console her saying that these regulations wouldn’t hurt most people in Cuba at all, since most people there don’t receive shipments from abroad. Rather, the new measure would help them.

“How?” asked my partner, innocently enough.

Dark glasses for sale in Havana.

“Because those people who sell things on the street [in Cuba], all those clothes, shoes, appliances or whatever they can get, aren’t common people. All of them — covered in tattoos and gold chains — are exploiting people with excessive prices,” he replied.

“So from now on the Customs Office is making them pay what’s due from them, since they add nothing to the country.”

For the first time a kick under the table worked and my partner choked back the words that were about to come out.

This was the Cuban “friend” we had helped to do his shopping to find things a little cheaper than what he would have found in most stores in Caracas, not to even mention what such products would have cost in Cuba.

Apparently he — and those people who are like him, and those who have better jobs than him, because he is someone who has very little “power” compared to others — has more rights than the great majority of Cubans. At least that must be what he feels… or thinks.

He must have talked that way to other people who don’t know much about Cuba. He was trying to say that street vendors are to blame for the exploitation and even the crime that’s committed in my country.

And there’s always a fool like me who — out of solidarity between Cubans — reaches out to these people when they make their trips out of the country.



Caridad: If I had the chance to choose what my next life would be like, I’d like to be water. If I had the chance to eliminate a worst aspect of the world I would erase fear. Of all the human feelings I most like I prefer friendship. I was born in the year of the first Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, the day that Gay Pride is celebrated around the world. I no longer live on the east side of Havana; I’m trying to make a go of it in Caracas, and I continue to defend my right to do what I want and not what society expects of me.

6 thoughts on “Denigrating Cuban Street Vendors

  • Guys please! and Yordanka too. Slow down and consider that a kick under the table may save a bruised ego, but in the long run we need information and most of what sticks in people minds is their personal experiences, including good conversation. So, do assert your personal and/or political views, but somewhere in any discussion of things that involve not only “the consumer” and “the vendor” and even “the political activist”, there will be enlightening moments when new information is exchanged. I hope, cause that is the only way we improve things.

    Yordanka knows her Cuban experiences, and I have mine and the guy with lots of immigration stamps has his and each and every one of us has important anecdotal experience that would prove every point of view, left, right and outer space! Reality exists, but anecdotes and the wonder subjective beliefs we all have are hardly realistic – except like the stopped clock that is right twice a day.

    So lets listen and try to teach, even our passionate opinions, but the larger world, such as whole societies and economies and grand concepts like consumerism and “freedom” etc. are more about the macro than the micro. I admire lots of people and aspects of both the US and Cuban culture, but I don’t hesitate to ask difficult questions in both places. What I find is that most people are not so good at being sociologists, or scientists of any kind when it gets too far from their daily work. Ask them about their personal stuff and you will get facts and fiction there too. Did you know that sociologists say that large percentages of people in both countries believe in actual angels flying around? Want to guess which country has the most angels and what percent can hold such irrational beliefs side by side with actual facts?

    Vendors and peddlers come in all types too. But if you were given the task of helping all or most of Cuba get better in the coming several years, what would you do? I know that there are people actually thinking and working on that challenge. Truly, they need help if they are to succeed. What can you suggest?

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