14ymedio, Havana, 16 November 2019 — What was going to be the most important commercial opening coinciding with the celebration of Havana’s half millennium has been marred after it was announced that the Cuatro Caminos Market would close after the first day of its reopening to the public. The arrival of thousands of people since the early hours of this Saturday overflowed the infrastructure of the most important market in the Cuban capital.
People running through the corridors to be first in line at the one of the stores inside, at least one woman with a broken arm, two doors shattered by the crowd, shoves that brought down several elderly people, collapsed shelves, and multiple complaints characterized the first day after the resumption of sales to the public in the imposing building, 14ymedio was able to confirm.
With a great drumroll the opening had been announced weeks in advance for the shopping center, also known as the Single Market, after a profound restauration of the old building. But the crowd that was waiting to buy some of the products that can’t be found in the rest of the stores in the city collapsed the place and forced the authorities to close it for a few days.
A few hours after opening its doors, a note from the market management signed by its general manager, Ania Peralta de Armas, and published on the CIMEX Corporation’s Facebook account, announced the closure “before the massiveness of the public.” The market will suspend its services until “next week,” the statement adds. “The decision is correct as a result of the indiscipline and the mistreatment of the installation,” the entity justified, responding to a comment on the announcement.
“On Thursday the butcher shop appeared on the television news and it looked like it was very well stocked so my mom and I arranged to wake up very early,” said Dagmara Ruiz, a Havana resident of the nearby Los Sitios neighborhood. “We arrived at six in the morning and although the morning was a little cold there were already a lot of people lining up.”
Cuatro Caminos is one of the nerve points of Havana and not only because of its commercial importance, but also its urban location. The market is within a huge block bounded by four streets — Monte, Cristina, Arroyo and Matadero — and with a high population density in the surrounding area, for decades this commercial center has been the main source of livelihood for hundreds of families, transporters and vendors living in the surrounding area.
This November 16, on the day of the 500th anniversary of Havana, as the opening hours approached “the line began to be disorganized and the police presence became very heavy,” Ruiz laments. “All this was to be expected because all the stores have shortages and people are desperate for some products that are nowhere to be found.” She gives as an example “chicken breasts, detergent, tomato puree and toilet paper.”
Only two days ago the official newspaper Granma described the market as a place where “modernity and tradition” mix. The newspaper said the place would be open this Saturday from nine in the morning until eight at night. Customers could buy a variety of products that ranged from home appliances, through meat products, to fruits and vegetables.
But the experience of Yondiel, age 28 and a resident of the Mulgoba neighborhood, was very different. The young man lost his wallet in the tumult outside the Plaza after waiting for almost five hours to enter. “There were several quarrels and although there were patrols with police all around, everyone was very anxious.”
“The problem is that they collected a lot of the merchandise that was in other stores to bring it here and in the Boyeros and Camagüey market the refrigerators are empty,” he adds. “That’s why we had to come here to get sausages and some chicken.”
The nearly 100-year-old architectural colossus, built in 1920, had been closed since February 2014 and underwent a restoration to return it to its former splendor. With the restoration, its two plants were operational, the first dedicated to warehouses and refrigerators, the butcher shop, an agricultural market and a canned food shop.
On the second floor are now household supplies, hardware and household appliances, as well as a cafeteria, an information bureau and an office to receive remittances through Western Union.
“A lot of social indiscipline and a lot of disregard,” is how a Havana woman defined it, after she arrived there this morning with her mother, who is in her seventies. “I had to leave because they were going to knock my mom down, people were crazy trying to get into the stores and fill their baskets with food,” she explains to this newspaper.
The residents near the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos, who have spent for more than five years waiting for the reopening of a commercial space that was the heart of the neighborhood, are not astonished by what happened on Saturday. “We saw it coming, because they had announced it a lot on television and shown full shelves and a lot of food,” acknowledges a resident of a neighboring street who set up his living room as a parking lot for customers’ bicycles and motorbikes.
“This market has always had the problem of not enough parking in the surrounding area for the number of customers that can arrive in one day.” Now, with the rise of electric motorbikes, called ’motorinas’, that have begun to be sold, including in the recently opened foreign currency stores, “there are many people interested in coming to buy and they don’t want to lose their their motorinas in the attempt,” he says.
The neighbor relates part of what happened on the first opening day of the famous market. “It was like a human river and as they opened some entrances people entered running.”
On the top floor, the sisters Katia and Karla lined up to enter the appliances department but after noon they decided to leave because “there were many people and everything was very slow.” Born at the end of the last century, the two young women remember the Cuatro Caminos plaza they knew as girls.
“It is as if they had exchanged one place for another; that one was dirty and full of flies and this one seems to be in another country, all clean and illuminated,” Katia tells 14ymedio. However, she fears that “this is nothing more than for the inauguration because it is very difficult to maintain something like this without spending a lot of money every day on repairs and maintenance,” she says.
The young women offered the Trasval hardware store as an example. It is located on Galiano Street in an old building that was a Woolworth or Ten Cent chain. “When it was inaugurated it was spectacular but now it is not worth the trouble to go there: the air conditioning is barely working, the floor is broken in several places and the supply of goods is very poor,” Katia adds.
The fear that the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos will lose its “fijador,” or ‘fixer’ — as stability or permanence of quality if popularly called — is a shared concern and one that contributed to swelling the flood of customers this Saturday when the place remained open until past seven at night. “If I don’t buy it today, I don’t know if there will be tomorrow,” an old woman who came in search of ground beef repeated at least three times.
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