About Pushcarts and Pushcart Vendors / Miriam Celaya

Picture taken from Martinoticias

A few days ago, a pushcart vendor in my neighborhood was complaining about a new government measure that will apply to his trade: soon, street vendors selling agricultural products, already proliferating throughout the city, will be forced to get a regulation cart from the State measuring one square meter, two levels to show the merchandise, and a roof. “Raúl’s cart,” as the device has been nicknamed, will cost the vendors 800 pesos, and this tax will be in addition to the recent increases that the “self” employed have endured. Another business that the government will benefit from.

The excuse by the authorities this time is that the vendors use any rolling contraption for selling their goods, with the resulting disfigurement of the city, and, in addition, there are too many illegal vendors, so “Raul’s cart” will serve to monitor violations by those who evade applying for a seller’s license, thus avoiding paying the tax. The cart will be, therefore, something that will grant legality to its owner, a kind of certificate of guarantee that, in a way, will support the inspectors’ jobs.

Such a supposedly innocent joke in a country where everything is corruptible ignores that there is always the possibility of using the new pushcarts for the benefit of the cunning, so the argument of the supposed “control” is nothing but a subterfuge to quell possible disagreements. On the other hand, it is true that most of the pushcarts are in a deplorable state, but if we are talking about a beautification project for the city, we would have to start with the elimination of the many gushing sewers, the garbage dumps and rubble, and tear down dilapidated buildings, perform complete building maintenance, repair streets and sidewalks, unclog the street drainage systems and eliminate unsanitary and dilapidated facilities, such as “soup kitchens” where food is prepared and distributed to people without resources, as well as the filthy state cafeterias where you can find an array of items for sale, such as rum, cigarettes, condoms and light food of questionable quality and hygiene, and these, only to name a few notorious examples.

After sympathizing with the tribulations of the pushcart vendor, who was telling me his displeasure and that of his other vendor colleagues, I asked him what they proposed to do, so I could support his claims in my blog. “What are we supposed to do, reporter! Can’t you see that if we protest, they will take away our licenses? We can’t do a thing. I’m telling you so you can expose it on the internet”.

Wow! Observe I am both the therapist’s couch for angry vendors and the indirect vehicle for their anonymous protest. I could not help but smile. “OK, my friend, I will denounce two things: one, the government for blackmailing you and the other, you, for being such scaredy-cats and taking it lying down. While I’m at it, I will warn Cubans to watch out for your prices in the near future, because I suspect we may be the ones who will end up paying for your new regulation carts.”

I have the impression that now my vendor is also mad at me.

Translated by Norma Whiting

February 22 2013