14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 March 2017 – It is almost noon on Sunday and a young couple, with their two young children in their arms, stops frustrated in front of the closed gate of the Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center. For a moment they are confused, they consult the clock and immediately become inquisitive towards several people who arrived earlier and who, like them, have stopped in front of the lattice. Some wait patiently in the entryway from very early, “in case they open later,” but in vain.
The scene has been repeated every day since Friday, March 24, the day when the commercial center, the largest and most popular of its kind in Cuba, was closed. Dozens of regular customers from various provinces in the interior have traveled to the capital just to stumble across a small and laconic sign on the security gate, which warns the obvious and offers no useful information:
THE PLAZA CARLOS III SHOPPING CENTER
IT WILL BE KEPT CLOSED UNTIL NEW ADVISORY
Apologize for the annoyances that we may occasion
Of course, without official information, the surprise closure of Plaza Carlos III has raised a lot of speculation, especially in the neighborhoods surrounding the enclave, in the heart of downtown Havana, being one of the pioneer shops of the “opening” to foreign currency transactions in Cuba, since the so-called decriminalization of the dollar, back in the 90’s of the last century. Since its opening as a foreign exchange market Carlos III has undergone several renovations in different stages, but never before have the sales to the public been completely discontinued.
Rumors are circulating that relate this unusual closure to the recent fires that have occurred in other establishments that operate in foreign currency in the municipality. “The management denounced to the fire department headquarters the bad state of the fire-fighting media, because it does not want the same thing to happen to them [as in the last ones], so they are renovating the whole system,” say some residents of the neighborhood who, according to what they say, received that information from some of the shopping center’s employees and officials. There are those who say that “the firemen came and found that there were flaws in the fire protection system.”
These days, however, no metal or metal bars covering the two entrances of the Plaza have been seen to deploy personnel or vehicles specializing in fire-fighting technology, nor have any workers been seen to be reinstalling or maintaining the electrical networks or other similar tasks.
The most visible interior hassle has been the employees of the place, occupied in general cleaning of the floors and windows, who have been reluctant to give explanations to those who are not satisfied with the simple poster and inquire about the date of reopening. “Until further notice,” they repeat, as automatons, those who deign to respond.
Other neighbors speak of a “general audit” that “becomes very complicated” due to the large number of shopping mall departments and the size and complexity of their stores. This conjecture is reinforced, on the one hand, by the experience of decades of cyclical (and futile) raids against mismanagement, administrative corruption, misappropriation, embezzlement, smuggling, black marketing and all other illegalities to be found in a socioeconomic system characterized by growing demand, insufficient supply and the poor management of the state monopoly on the economy. The regularity of which does not escape any establishment where a high amount of state resources moves.
On the other hand, the surprise and unannounced closing – with all the losses it entails in a shopping center that bills thousands of pesos in both national currencies – is a sign of the intervention of the highest ranking government auditors to detect irregularities on the spot without giving transgressors time to hide traces of their misdeeds.
If the alleged audit is, in fact, underway, it would be a demonstration of the nullity of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and their failure to prevent illegalities in the neighborhood. For several months the constant and strong police presence around the outer areas of the commercial center have conferred a deplorable image of a besieged square, while the “inside” thieves, those who are part of the staff, looked after their own interests.
There is every indication, for the moment, that it does not seem to have fallen prey to that closure epidemic that has recently affected several establishments of the capital that trade in hard currencies.
Last Sunday some trucks continued unloading merchandise in the Plaza Carlos III warehouses, which augurs that on an imprecise but possibly soon date, the mall will be reopened to the public. There is every indication, for the moment, that it does not seem to have fallen prey to that closure epidemic that has recently affected several establishments of the capital that trade in hard currencies.
Affected sites include the hardware stores at 5th, 42nd and La Puntilla, in the Playa municipality Playa; the Yumurí and Sylvain de Zanja and Belascoaín stores in Centro Habana; the Pan American TRD on 9th Street, in the Casino Deportivo neighborhood of the Cerro municipality; and numerous sale kiosks spread around different points of the city, just to mention some cases.
While the waiting lasts and the questions accumulate without answers, the more optimistic habaneros have begun to rub their hands in the intangible expectation that the next reopening of the popular Plaza Carlos III will be accompanied with a renewed merchandise, and that at least in the first days of resumed sales the usually depressed shelves of the different departments will offer a greater quantity and variety of products.
Hope is the last thing you lose.
Translated by Norma Whiting