By Alexander Londres
HAVANA TIMES — Everything begins with an order “from above”. Then the paperwork comes down and nighttime preparations. The following day, from the crack of dawn, the commotion, chaos, crowds… This isn’t an undercover operation; there’s a sale.
Every once in a while, because of policies which fit in with the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance and Prices and the Ministry of Domestic Trade, as well as the military’s hard-currency stores, and those belonging to CIMEX corporation, they comply with the centralized government’s decision to reduce the retail price of some consumer goods according to national economic convenience and other commercial factors (standstill, expiration dates, etc.).
Generally-speaking, when prices are cut on basic food items, home products, or toiletries – the most sought-after items by Cuban families -, it is the best time for the extremely criticized and scorned resellers to come into action. They flood the stores with friends and family, cause a racket and hubbub in long lines, and manage to get their hands on the lion’s share of sale items, whatever it is.
This is something which has become normal in the eyes of the public because of just how frequently it happens. The authorities are well-aware of what is going on and they have even tried to put a stop to it by sometimes placing limits on how much you can buy at the state-run establishments.
Doing so proves counter-productive to a certain extent, as every commercial store’s main objective is to sell, not to regulate sales. Nevertheless, taking into account the social peculiarities in Cuba, it has been put into practice – in order to defend the country’s achievements, those who understand it say. An action against hoarding – another name which this phenomenon goes by – which to tell you the truth, has provided the desired effect on very few occasions: resellers continue to do it come hell or high water, dedicating themselves body and soul to scheming and making easy money.
At the end of the day, with or without a limit on purchases, the truth is that the high prices on sale items remain after the long journey of the item (manufacturer-distributor-marketer-store-reseller), which has to be paid by the needy population who didn’t find out about the “price cut” in time, or simply couldn’t buy because the amount put on sale was very small and quickly ran out.
Nobody has been able to scientifically explain how resellers are always the first ones to find out about the sales. I imagine that they must have the most foolproof, better articulated and updated communication network in the country. Or is it that they take advantage of “accidental” leaks in information, caused by some “selfless” worker in the retail sector? Who can say exactly?
Orlando, a salesman at a store, told me that, “there have even be cases where resellers themselves carry out some kind of study, where they take into account the three month meriod when a product can be reduced, and then using this information, they demand the price cut themselves.”
What is indeed clear here is that these street businesspeople aren’t being arrested, and their lives are being deliberately made easy – although they also provide a great deal of work for the “brave and virtuous” body of inspectors which are supposed to deal with them. The resellers manage to masterfully avoid them in the majority of cases – or bribe them to turn a blind eye – therefore giving them free reign to their illegal trade, without a concern in the world.
I ask myself whether there is an effective way of putting a stop to these individuals’ “struggle” to make a living, which, although it’s true that they work with great determination and commitment, it’s also true that it isn’t the most innocent or healthy way to make a living.
On the other hand, and taking into account the fact that the government’s unemployment rates in Cuba are so low, it would be interesting to know what kind of job category these “workers” fall under, who operate without a legal status. Are they non-government employees in the non-private sector (which the self-employed are considered)? Or do they appear as unemployed?
It would also be interesting if in the next population census, some kind of instrument was used to find out the closest possible to real figure of this large number of fighters in the world of reselling, who swarm about Cuba’s city streets, selling everything underneath the sun. Then they would be able to assess what benefits these popular figures should receive on a social level, which, by the way, are the same as the benefits professionals, builders and the working population who honestly contribute to the sustainability and socio-economic development of this island.
Maybe, in this way, with stats in hand, the (in)competent authorities in our country would be able to take greater note of the issue – as a more conclusive action to protect consumers, if they want to – always defending these other Cubans, the majority, without a doubt, who also seek out and find alternative ways to get by, in their daily fight to eat, without pinching from other people’s pockets.