Cuba’s Self-Employment Crisis

Photo Feature by Natalia Favre (El Toque)

Alfredo, a street vendor who refills lighters, parks on a busy street corner in Central Havana every day, from early in the morning. His workshop is set up on his tricycle, which allows him to move along the neighborhood’s streets. Photos: Natalia Favre

HAVANA TIMES – The severe economic crisis in Cuba right now, as well as currency reform, have been a big blow to small private businesses. Licenses to operate have gone up, and the Government has stepped up restrictions, while sales have dropped because of the crisis itself, which have all made private business owners’ everyday lives a never-ending battle for survival.

Right now, people’s priorities lie in putting food on the table at home, Edel says, who walks down Central Havana’s streets with his cart full of sweets. Sales have plummeted and he is the breadwinner in his household. The street vendor license Edel has forces him to walk all day. Stopping for an extended period of time on a street corner can get him a fine that nobody can afford to pay.

Others, such as Rosa or Roberto, have improvised their businesses in their home so they don’t have to go outside, at a time when around 1,000 COVID-19 cases are being reported every day, and the Government has announced new restrictions.

It’s an everyday struggle for Cubans to live a dignified life. Lots of the time, they are pushed to take illegal action by the same measures that are supposed to protect their rights, and only restrict them instead.

Alfredo in his workshop, which is his tricycle.
Alfredo at work.
Sandy rides his ice-cream cart from Cerro to Central Havana, every afternoon. The horn incorporated into his tricycle, tells passers-by that he has ice-cream sandwiches and popsicles.
Sandy and his ice cream cart.
A lighter refiller reads Granma newspaper while waiting for customers in a doorway in front of Parque de la Fraternidad.
Rosa, in front of her house on San Rafael street, Central Havana. Other women cook meals inside that are then sold at the entrance. In addition to the cafe, Rosa makes the most of her doorway to sell items, such as sheets, clothes and shoes.
Oscar, 23, looks after his mother’s flowers stall, along with two friends, in front of his house, on a street in Central Havana. Oscar, de 23 años, junto a dos amigos, cuida el puesto de flores que tiene su mamá frente a su casa, en una calle de Centro Habana.
A barber improvises his “salon” in the middle of a street in Central Havana.
Roberto used to be a builder. Ever since the pandemic began, he began to sell different items on a stall he set up in front of his house, on the grounds of what used to be a restaurant but collapsed over 20 years ago.
Edel pushes a sweets cart down Central Havana’s streets. One of the conditions of his license is that he has to constantly be on the move. Parking anywhere on the street could get him a fine.

Mirta sells little coconut cakes she makes with her own two hands. Every afternoon, she walks down Old Havana’s streets with her sweet merchandise.
Mirta selling here sweets.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

One thought on “Cuba’s Self-Employment Crisis

  • The main problem in Cuba is that people do not want to work. We prefer to wait for our family in the USA to send money.

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