14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 19 January 2023 — On the day following its opening, which was announced with great fanfare by the official press on Tuesday, the shop owned by the Thaba company in the Havana district of Cerro was already being subjected to an audit. This opening had brought with it much expectation as it was anticipated that there would be items such as gloves on sale, or masks, backpacks or caps — things that are very difficult to find on the Island — at low prices and in pesos.
“You can’t buy anything at the moment because they’re auditing the shop”, explained the man calling himself the administrator as he stood in the shop doorway on Wednesday and addressed the crowd that had gathered there since the early hours. And then he added, grumpily, in the manner of an official from the Ministry of the Interior, that: “You can come in and have a look but you mustn’t interrupt in any way what they’re doing in there”.
The majority of those who were waiting turned away, but others, curious, accepted the offer. Inside the tiny shop a number of them took out their phones to take photos of the products and their prices but they were sternly warned by an employee: “You can take photos but you mustn’t put them on social media”.
A modern electronic register stood out on the counter. Payments can’t be made in cash, the employees explained, but only by using the EnZona or TransferMovil apps.
The main attraction of the shop is, without a doubt, rubber gloves (at 70 pesos), unavailable in Cuba for a long time. Apart from that, the range is limited to several backpacks, a few caps — all with Cuban flags — and masks.
To the disappointment of those who entered, the facemasks weren’t the surgical type — despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of the nationally produced blue masks (azulitas) are piled up in state producer Gardis’s warehouse — but instead they are cloth ones, and priced at 30 pesos each.
In the shop, a leather apron reaches 1,400 pesos, whilst a belt, of the kind worn by dock workers and heavy goods handlers, costs 400, a bag 800 and a durable small suitcase, 2,000.
Everything comes from the state company Thaba, dedicated to the production, in different factories across the country, of “protective equipment of all kinds”, including gloves, aprons, wristbands, bags, sunshades and tents. The company has also been designated to produce baseball gloves.
“So many potbellies came here yesterday for this nonentity?” a woman commented as she left the shop, disillusioned, alluding to the high functionaries who inaugurated the shop on Tuesday, including the first secretary of Havana, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar. “Soon they’ll even be inaugurating with big fanfares a state shopping trolly full of Slushie drinks”.
Located in Calle Suzarte, in the district of Palatino, the establishment’s objective is, according to Tribuna de La Habana, “to satisfy the population’s needs, looking for ways to make prices competitive”. The official statement emphasises this last point, reiterating that costs will be “overall lower than the informal market, those of the TCP (self employed workers) and the new types of non-state management”.
The opening of a new pesos shop in the middle of an economic crisis which is gripping the Island is an increasingly rare event. If we add the presence of the highest party leader in the city, the expectation created among potential customers was quite high, but it only took a few hours for any excitement to disappear.
The parade of officials didn’t end with Torres Iríbar: on Wednesday, the Minister for Communications, Mayra Arevich Marín, visited the shop “to test the use of electronic payments in Cuban pesos, facilitated via the platforms Transfermóvil and Enzona”, according to the Thaba company’s Facebook page.
On the same day that Arevich congratulated the employees on their skill with the payment technology, a dozen customers became frustrated outside the shop doorway because an audit was stopping the sale of goods inside. “What starts badly, ends badly”, concluded an elderly man who decided to retrace his steps and come back another day.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso
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