14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 16 September 2022 — The fruit and vegetable market at the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos, the largest in the capital, looked bleak this Friday. Old manioc and green plantains were the only things that were being sold in the stands, among empty pallets and counters.
“That manioc is so ugly that it looks like it has monkeypox,” a woman joked to the vendors, who laughed heartily. The memory of this green market, which before and after its major 2019 remodeling was the best supplied in Havana, with adequate prices for the always precarious economy of Cubans was left in the past. “This is empty,” another young man said out loud, one of the few people who could be seen in the place, along with elderly figures, beset by hunger.
In contrast with the scarcity in this part of the square, which is accessed through Matadero Street, the store selling in freely convertible currency (MLC) stands out, with its full shelves and its well-dressed and better-fed customers.
Barely grazing that abundance, an invalid woman sells plastic bags for 50 pesos, taking advantage of the blasts of air conditioning that escape outside every time the doors open.
This store has its entrance on Atarés Street, and those who cannot access this establishment due to their lack of foreign currency, can go to the store selling in pesos, which overlooks Monte Street. However, one cannot shop there unless it corresponds to your place of residence, as indicated by the rationing regulations established by the Havana authorities last April.
Halfway there, a line suddenly formed to buy a pair of yogurt cups at 16 pesos each and a small plate of ham at 55 pesos at the stand El Rápido. Several worlds in one, in short, with different social classes, something that the Revolution fought so hard against.
In November, 2019, when Cuatro Caminos reopened after four years closed for renovations, the influx of customers was such that the first day became a pitched battle to reach any product. People were stepping on each other to access the interior of the building, shoes were lost in the race. That restart was marked by those strongest or smartest people taking boxes and boxes of the same food.
Nestled at the crossroads of several municipalities, the 1920’s market has always been, more than a sales outlet, the center of economic activity in the area. For decades, its function as a square with pallets for private peasants, private merchants and all kinds of informal vendors that hung around the place contributed to its neighbors’ survival.
The times when residents in the vicinity made a living by renting parts of their homes to store fruits, food and religious accessories, which were later sold in Cuatro Caminos, are long gone. After its last deep reform, the place gained in innovation, but lost the popular and boisterous character that characterized it since its beginnings.
Without being able to earn a living from the market, residents are now trying to get some income from the proximity of that imposing building that has two cornucopias on its main façade, prosperous cornucopias not reflected inside. The only advantage they seem to have is getting in line earlier than residents of other neighborhoods.
The new way of survival is now reduced to acting as coleros, selling turns in lines, to buy a product or acquire certain merchandise that’s offered for sale for just a few hours, in order to resell them in the informal market. Some of those who were waiting today for the yogurt and ham combo were probably included in that case: taking advantage of a market that is increasingly inaccessible to their pockets.
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