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 their watches and immediately start asking questions of several people who arrived earlier and who, like them, have stopped in front of the gate. Some wait patiently outside from very early, “in case they open later”, but in vain.
This scene has been repeated every day since Friday, March 24th, when the commercial center, the largest and most popular of its kind in Cuba, closed down. Dozens of regular customers from several of the provinces have traveled to the capital just to stumble across a small and laconic sign on the gate, warning about the obvious, but offering no useful additional information:
THE PLAZA CARLOS III SHOPPING CENTER
WILL BE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE THIS MIGHT HAVE CAUSED.
Of course, without any official information, the surprise closing of Plaza Carlos III has raised a lot of speculation, especially in neighborhoods surrounding the area, in the heart of downtown Havana, for it is one of the pioneer shopping centers to deal in foreign currency transactions in Cuba, since the so-called decriminalization of the dollar took place, back in the 90’s. From the time it opened as a foreign exchange market, Carlos III has undergone several renovations in different stages, but never before have sales to the public been completely discontinued.
Rumors are circulating that connect this unusual closing with the recent fires that have taken place in other establishments that operate in foreign currency in the municipality
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 undisclosed closing -with all the losses it entails in a shopping center that bills thousands in both national currencies- is a sign of the intervention of the highest ranking government auditors to detect irregularities in situ, without giving transgressors time to hide traces of their misdeeds.
If the alleged audit is true, it would be a demonstration of the ineffectiveness of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and their failure to prevent unlawful activity in the neighborhood. For several months, the constant and strong police presence around the outer areas of the commercial center has looked like the appalling image of a besieged square, while the “inside” criminals, those who are part of the staff, lived by their own code.
For now, all indications are that it does not appear to have fallen into that sort of epidemic closing that has been coming down hard recently in the capital on several establishments that trade in foreign currency
Last Sunday several trucks continued unloading merchandise in the stores at Plaza Carlos III, which augurs that, on an imprecise but possibly brief date, the center will reopen to the public. For now, all indications are that it does not appear to have fallen into that sort of epidemic closing that has been coming down hard recently in the capital on several establishments that trade in foreign currency, such as the cases of heavyweight hardware departments on 5th and 42nd and at La Puntilla, in the municipality of Playa; The Yumurí and Sylvain, at Zanja and Belascoaín markets in Centro Habana; The TRD Panamericana at Ninth Street, in the Casino Deportivo development, Cerro municipality, and numerous sale kiosks dispersed through different points in the city, just to mention some cases.
While the waiting stretches out and the questions without answers accumulate, the more optimistic habaneros have begun to rub their hands to the intangible expectation that the next reopening of the popular Plaza Carlos III will arrive with renewed offerings, and that, at least in the first sales days, the usually depressed shelves and stands of the different departments will offer more quantity and more variety of products.
Hope is the last thing you lose.
Translated by Norma Whiting
*Site manager’s note: The previous “translation” of this post, which was a complete mess, was a mistake in transmission / my apologies to Miriam and Norma!