Imported Clothing, An Illegal and Profitable Business / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

A woman sells clothes at the profitable business ‘Paris Viena’ on Monte Street. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 27 February 2017 – Regla has spent years working in a prohibited business. She used to do it in doorways on Monte Street in Old Havana, but when the government changed the law to block the trade in clothes and shoes, in December 2013, she had to find an even more discrete method. Now she maintains a point of sale in a state-owned place that rents spaces to private workers, but her little countertop that displays manufactured parts, only serves as a cover to attract customers who then trade in the merchandise that comes from countries Cubans can visit without a visa.

In the past, Regla made the clothes with raw materials “subtracted” from the state Wajay towel factory in Boyeros, and sold them through her self-employment license as a dressmaker.

“With that trick Regla also avoids paying a good part of the payment of taxes on her personal income. Of the 535,000 self-employed in the county, right now 170,000 of them must present their their affidavit, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

Among her ample catalog, Lycra pants printed with an American flag are a stand out.

“Everything I have is better quality than in the store,” the saleswoman explains with pride. This week she has again whispered to customers to look at her merchandise in the doorways, because the building where she has her stand is closed for repairs.

Among her ample catalog, Lycra pants printed with an American flag are a stand out. The official media have railed against this garment on repeated occasions, but its presence in the streets continues to grow.

The police control the areas where these sellers frequently offer their merchandise. The penalty for illegal sales includes the confiscation of all the products and a fine of 1,500 pesos. However, the informal sellers continue to dominate a good part of the market for clothing and shoes to the detriment of state owned “Hard Currency Collection” stores, as the state stores are formally named.

Yulia offers her products on Infanta Street. Mot of them come from Russia, Guyana and Haiti. “I started traveling to countries that did not require a visa, but for months I also bought in Haiti.” She thinks that the Caribbean country is a good destination to be supplied from because of the low prices of plane tickets.

This illegal market has also found its own ways of protecting itself

“I go to the home of relatives in Santiago de Cuba and I fly from there,” she explains. “I take clothes twice as big.” This is because the investment is lower than in the case of more distant trips, such as the distant Moscow.

Obtaining a visa for Haiti is relatively easy for Cubans, and Yulia recently also got the Haitian residency. Her new legal status will allow her to expand her business. “Everyone wants pretty clothes from outside the country,” says the saleswoman who has been in the trade for seven years.

This illegal market has also found its own ways of protecting itself. To the cry of “water!” the informal sellers of Monte Street hide their goods or vanish on some stairs. It’s the code to warn that the police are coming. When the authorities withdraw, they all return to their places. Until the next warning.