Monday, October 30, 2006

To be a street vendor in Cuba

To be a street vendor in Cuba

Roberto Santana Rodríguez

HAVANA, Cuba - October ( - The cry of "Agua" heard in a
Cuban street could make a foreigner think of water. One more savvy in
the idiosyncrasies of Cuban Spanish might think of rain, and both would
be correct.

Up to a point.

But as a woman named Mercedes found out just as she was about to buy a
mop from a street vendor, "Agua" means street vendors vanish,
instantaneously, like a wisp of smoke.

"Agua" is the cry that warns street vendors that a policeman or
inspector just hove into view. And being nabbed by one of these usually
entails the loss of one's goods and money, and a fine that can go as
high as 1500 pesos.

The many who attempt to fill consumer needs that the government, in its
all-encompassing planning cannot, are by definition permit-less and
therefore illegal. Yet out of either economic necessity or sheer
cussedness, they persist, stubborn entrepreneurs that the government
strives to stamp out.

They sell anything, from food to clothing, digital watches, medication
for an upset stomach, parts for home appliances, or mops.

Mercedes went on, hoping she can find another vendor who will sell her a
mop for 25 pesos, or one dollar. The one she's been using has seen its
day. She bought it at the government's dollar store, and didn't last
even two months.

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