In Cuba, With His Tamales, Freddy Earns in Three Days What He Used To Earn in a Month as a Teacher

 The streets of the city of Matanzas have been filled with street vendors trying to survive

Freddy walks around the entire city of Matanzas from Monday to Saturday selling tamales / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Julio César Contreras, Matanzas, 29 June 2024 — Under the sun, sweaty and with a Chinese Forever bicycle that he inherited from his father, Freddy rides around the city of Matanzas from Monday to Saturday selling tamales. In Pueblo Nuevo, in the Versalles neighborhood, and near the Faustino Pérez hospital, the 34-year-old man from Matanzas appears with his white container full of the dough wrapped in corn leaves. The bicycle on which he insistently pedals has a dual purpose: to cover as many customers as possible and to escape the reach of inspectors who are looking for a license that he does not have.

“I have two children to support. Three days of work now brings me the salary I earned in a full month teaching school. Giving up my profession was not easy, but I had no other choice. It is a matter of survival,” he admits. Before working as a salesman, Freddy did many different jobs, but none of them were stable. Now he rides his Forever brand bike knowing that he can be stopped and fined at any corner.

Having a self-employed license would make his job easier, but it’s been four months since his applied

Having a self-employed license would make his job easier, but he submitted the application to the Municipal Labor Office four months ago; the procedure takes a long time and Freddy has to “earn his bread.” His relationship with other street vendors has allowed him to learn some tricks of the trade, such as the places with the best clientele or the neighborhoods where the inspectors don’t go. “What I do is go to La Marina, El Kilómetro or the Iglesias neighborhood, areas where they don’t go,” he explains.

According to a Labor employee, the delay in applications is due to the fact that they are all approved in Havana, which imposes — equally — an average period of three months that everyone must wait. However, Freddy knows that there is an exception to this rule: “Those who leave a ’little gift’ have preference.”

Now the streets are full of many young street vendors / 14ymedio

Yanelis, a woman from Matanzas, is in a similar situation. She has converted the car she used years ago to take her daughter out for a ride, into a vehicle for selling the bread. Early every morning she goes up Monserrate Street with about 50 bags of the product that she must try to sell that day. “They give me bread for 250 pesos so I can sell the bags for 300. If I can’t sell it, I still have to give the money to the bakery owner, and then it’s very difficult for someone to buy old bread,” she says, so sometimes she has to go out in the afternoon as well, if she can get someone to look after her daughter.

The fines, which Yanelis herself has suffered at some point, range from 2,500 pesos to 10,000

The fines, which Yanelis herself has suffered at some time, range from 2,500 pesos to 10,000. “The worst thing that can happen is that they confiscate what you bring, because then you have to assume the losses and pay the owner as if you had sold everything,” she adds.

“People know that we are in need and they take advantage of that. Street vendors have to face suppliers on one side and buyers on the other. We are the weakest link in the chain,” she reflects. According to Yanelis, the possibility of selling is not guaranteed either, as it does not only depend on the clientele. “In my case, when there is no flour, there is no bread. And when there is no bread, there is no work.”

While a few years ago it was common for these jobs to be carried out by retired elderly people or the farmers themselves who came to the city to sell their products, now the streets are full of many young street vendors. It doesn’t matter if they have only been selling for months, like Freddy, or years, like Yanelis, resignation to their situation is something they quickly accept. “One day you are lucky and another you are not. The only thing that is certain is that you have to eat.”


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