HAVANA TIMES – The urban landscape of Havana lacks an important element these days: informal vendors who, in parks and doorways, offer everything from matches to soft drinks. A police operation carried out last week swept up these vendors, who sell basic products that are scarce in state stores.
“Not even one was left. These doorways on Galiano Street were always full of people selling many useful things for the home,” said a resident in Centro Habana who, approached the central avenue with the intention of buying a washer for his Italian coffee maker. “At first I thought it was too early and they hadn’t arrived, but a neighbor told me that the police had removed them.”
According to this resident, the raid took several minutes. “They arrested some and took away all the merchandise. Others were fined and warned that if they see them here again the fine will be even higher,” explains Luisa, a resident on nearby Águila Street, who rents part of her room to informal sellers to keep their merchandise.
The operation reached the self-employed fair also located on Galiano Street. Although those who sell there are licensed to sell local handicrafts and other privately-produced goods, according to the police, some were offering industrial products brought from abroad or bought in stores in freely convertible currency.
The usually-bustling place on Tuesday was practically empty and without the in-and-out of customers that has characterized it for years. Through the doorways in Galiano, from time to time you can see police, who monitor the area so that the street vendors don’t return. A daring one manages to take advantage of the fact that the agents move away to quietly hawk sponges and small bags of detergent.
“There are people who say that it’s the fault of the resellers who hoard the little they buy in the store and then resell it, but most of the things that these vendors sell are brought from abroad,” explains the woman, alluding to the mules that import all kinds of goods from Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic and the United States.
“If you need a sewing needle right now, where do you buy it?” asks Luisa. “Many of the things they sell don’t exist anywhere else, for example, dyes for clothes, lighters for gas stoves or shoe polish,” the woman says. “None of them have become rich selling all that junk,” she emphasizes.
The panorama, when you walk along Reina Street or San Rafael Boulevard is strange without the small tables or blankets on the ground of these informal merchants. The hope that some of their most assiduous customers have is that the waters will soon reach a level when the police raids against them end, and then the stalls will return with their tubes of glue and belts for men.
They do this all the time but then the vendors come back,” considers another neighbor. “Now they are again with the ’battle against illegalities,’ but they don’t recognize that these sellers solve a problem.” In the Fe del Valle park, where until a few days ago the tables alternated with bargains and school items, now there are only a few people sitting on the benches or connecting to the wifi area. It looks like the same place as a few weeks ago, but it no longer is.
Translated by Regina Anavy for Translating Cuba