Goodbye to the Self-employed Worker / Gladys Linares

Dragones and Galiano after prohibition of imported items — photo by Gladys Linares

HAVANA, Cuba, January, — For the majority of us, January generally is a month of privations. For decades people often have been heard lamenting in the first days of the year about how difficult their situation is, but never like now. This 2014, according to some, the scarcity is felt more than at other times.

Many think that this is due, in great part, to the arbitrary measure applied to self-employed workers since the November 2, 2013, news brief in the Granma newspaper announcing the prohibition of the sale of articles imported or acquired in the state commercial network. In addition, it gave a brief term of 59 days (until December 31) for liquidating merchandise. This order caused the failure of many of the self-employed because in spite of having good demand from the population, the term was not sufficient.

One of the damaged sellers — who did not want to identify himself — had a license as a producer-seller of several items for the home. A great portion of his merchandise was acquired through a friend who travels to Ecuador. For three years inspectors visited him, always looking for a way to find some fault, but they never told him that he could not sell imported items.

Another one injured used to sell clothes imported at the Virgen del Camino fair; she commented — anonymously — that although she is unionized, she did not approach the union because it answers to the Government. Also, she adds, “If I make a claim, I stand out; better to keep selling behind closed doors.”

Many times the Government tried to blame shortages on the self-employed who “monopolized” the stores in the absence of a wholesale market. Nevertheless, in the opinion of the great majority, now the falsity of this hypothesis has been demonstrated because after the new prohibition, the shelves of stores, kiosks and state containers are emptier than before.

With the fever of self-employment, Havana came to life. Fixing and painting dwellings and facades and taking advantage of idle or under-used spaces for new cafeterias, small restaurants, second-hand shops, or kiosks, hanging cheerful posters of all kinds advertising offers and causing the comings and goings of onlookers and customers, it is indisputable that those who began to test their luck changed the urban landscape.

Among those new places, the Caridad fair came to be one of the most attended in Central Havana. It is located on the corner of Dragones and Galiano, on land equipped by the Government for renting to self-employed but that today is found vacant given that the majority of the stands were devoted to the sale of imported items.

Space equipped by the State, now empty -- photo by Gladys Linares
Space equipped by the State, now empty — photo by Gladys Linares

But the sellers are not the only ones hurt with this measure. These self-employed meet many needs of the people who now have nowhere to go because historically the State has not be able to provide us with certain products.

One of the affected clients is a neighbor who needed two water faucets, but since the sellers of plumbing supplies in Lawton closed their businesses, he had to go to Central Havana to see if he could find some. On returning in the afternoon, tired from walking and without faucets, he commented: “The stores are empty, the stands and kiosks, ’bare.’  First they authorized the self-employed to sell and now they prohibit them. In short, as Cantinflas* would say, ’There are moments in life that are truly momentous.’”

*Translator’s note: Cantinflas was a hugely successful Mexican comedic actor, on the level of a “speaking” Charlie Chaplin (Chaplin called him “the best comedian alive”).

Cubanet, January 31, 2014,

Translated by mlk