Note to viewers of the video: This video was taken by the police, and as can be seen with careful viewing, the uniformed officers are not the only enforcers in this video; many plainclothes officers are also present.
14ymedio, Havana, 7 January 2017 — Images of a police operation against informal fruit and vegetable sellers fill the viral video that is infuriating Cubans. Although the event occurred in mid-August 2016 in Old Havana, when some people uploaded it to Facebook, only in December was the recording leaked to alternative networks where it now is being passed hand-to-hand.
The video shows the most agitated moment of a trifling occurrence on the corner of Aguacate and O’Reilly streets in the historic center of Havana. A pushcart vendor is arrested by the police, who confiscate his merchandise, while onlookers gather all around so as not to miss what is happening.
The minutes, captured by one of the plainclothes officers who participated in the arrest, show popular outrage at the event, which some present called “abuse.” The harshness of the vendor’s beating at the hands of plainclothes officer is also captured in the video.
According to witness statements gathered this week at the scene, the incident began when a police officer detained an avocado seller who did not have a license to sell agricultural products. The vendor’s resistance and the subsequent action to overcome it, sparked solidarity and protests among those passing by this busy intersection.
The video, taken by the police, not only documents the moments of greatest violence, but also seems to have the express purpose of recording the faces of those who reacted with greatest dissatisfaction to the police operation
“Every now and then something like this happens,” confesses Luisín, a pedicab driver who covers the route between the Fraternity Park and the historic center. The man remembers the arrest last August and says that, “for days the neighborhood did not talk about anything else, because it got hot.”
The same corner is a focal point and meeting place for the police who staged the operation. “We have to show an iron fist against the illegalities, because we can’t have people getting rich selling food to the population,” Veronica, a retiree and habitué of the place, told this newspaper.
The police video not only documents the moments of greatest violence, but also seems to have the express purpose of recording the faces of those who reacted with the greatest dissatisfaction to the police operation.
The official offensive against the pushcart vendors started last January, after a sharp rise in food prices. The government imposed price caps at some points of sale in the capital, closed the El Trigal wholesale market, and unleashed a concentrated raid against street vendors selling fruits and vegetables.
However, twelve months after the start of the offensive, food prices have not dropped as much as the authorities hoped and informal sellers have again proliferated all along Aguacate Street.
In the face of the problems of supply and low productivity, the government plans to import 1.75 billion dollars worth of food in 2017, about 82 million dollars more than in 2016.