14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 17 July 2017 — Samuel is nine years old and has broken several of the windows in his building playing ball. His nearest neighbors see that he is very calm these days since his mother gave him a Fidget Spinner, a fad toy that some schools in the US, UK or Argentina have had to ban because of the distractions they cause among students. The toy has just landed in Cuba.
Simple and hypnotic, the little amusement with bearings can spin for several minutes. There are lights, phosphorescent colors, patterns and it even can emit repetitive tunes. In reality it is like the old yoyos or the spinning tops have returned, this time made of plastic.
Until a few weeks ago there were only a few specimens on the island, but in the summer vacation its presence has multiplied and it has become one of the most common requests from children to their parents. Although not yet sold in the legal market, illegal networks have versions for all tastes.
“It is said that it can help to alleviate the deficit of attention but it does not convince to me, because I have not seen any scientific work that demonstrates it”
The spinner was created in 1993 by the American Catherine Hettinger, age 62, who suffers from myasthenia, a disease that weakens muscles and generates fatigue. Her difficulties led her to create this game for her daughter to be distracted and it is believed to combat anxiety and attention deficit problems, coming to be used in the US as a therapeutic toy even though its benefits are not credited on a scientific basis.
“I just saw one, although I had read about the subject,” says Maria Antonia, 69, a retired psychiatrist who specializes in working with children. “It is said that it can help to ease attention deficit, but I’m not convinced because I have not seen any scientific work that demonstrates it,” she clarifies.
In Cuban schools it has not yet started to be a problem, but the spinner has been banned in schools of several countries. “It distracts students while they are in class and that conspires against the learning process,” says the psychiatrist.
“In the last weeks of the course a student started to bring one to classes and I had to take it from him and call his parents,” recalls Mercedes, a second-grade teacher in the Plaza de la Revolución municipality. The educator says that she did not do it “because it was bad, but because all the students were fascinated and wanted to spin it all the time.”
In many countries, businesses promote it as an ideal anti-anxiety device, to achieve greater concentration and also in cases of autism and hyperactivity. Forbes magazine considers it an indispensable toy for the office and it is among the most popular item on Amazon.
José Carlos, 38, travels as a “mule” between Havana and Panama City at least twice a month. Since May he began to add the famous spinners to the merchandise he imports. “First I brought one to my son and then the neighbors ordered them from me, but now I bring them to sell,” he says.
Small, cheap and light, the funny little toys are the perfect product to go through customs without major problems
Small, cheap and light, the funny little toys are the perfect product to go through customs without major problems. “I bring some made only of plastic, others of plastic and metal and the most sophisticated with lights,” says José Carlos. In his last importing trp he managed to introduce fifty units in the country.
“They sell between 5 and 15 CUC depending on the model,” a solid business if you consider that they cost between 2 and 3 dollars in Panama. “With the sale of these toys I think that I will be able to complete fixing the bathroom in my house, so I hope that the excitement lasts a long time,” he says.
José Carlos does not fear state competition, because the toy sales network managed by the Ministry of Internal Commerce has, in his opinion, a poor and outdated supply. “When the products arrive here, they are no longer fashionable out there,” he mocks.
The problems in the production and sale of toys in Cuba fueled debate in the last session of Parliament, when Deputy Aymara Guzman, President of the José Martí Pioneers Organization, acknowledged that the Government does not have a defined strategy for its “production, distribution and sales.”
The circulation of toys in the state market decreased from about 118 million pesos worth in 2012, to just over 94 million today. The fall has been noticed in the lack of variety and in the long lines outside the stores when Three Kings Day approaches, the day Cuban children are given Christmas presents. The demand has grown, fueled by families with higher incomes or who receive remittances from family abroad.
The high costs and the low quality of the goods in the children’s stores has led to many parents choosing to buy toys manufactured by the self-employed, or imported through the illegal market. This situation generated complaints among parliamentarians, who called for the state to have a greater presence in toy market.
The circulation of toys in the state market decreased from about 118 million pesos worth in 2012, to just over 94 million today
In a park in Havana’s La Timba neighborhood, two girls are taking turns passing the object from the tip of their index fingers to the tip of their noses. For more than an hour they try pirouettes and possible movements. Another child looks at them with a mixture of hope and envy.
But the taste for spinners is not just children’s thing. Among some young people it has become an essential object that accompanies them on their nights out and meetings with friends. This Saturday, some were incessantly roaming around Havana’s Calle G, where countless urban tribes gather every weekend.
“It relaxes me and I can’t look away when it’s spinning,” Jennifer, 16, tells 14ymedio. The young woman proudly says that she was the first person to have one of these toys in her La Lisa neighborhood. “This is the latest, what you have to have not to be out of it,” she says.
In the middle of the night, some lights are seen on both sides of the central street as more young people arrive. Pedestrians are alternately curious and surprised at the peculiar object. “It’s even good for attracting a date because it attracts a lot of people,” says Jennifer.