Mobile Vendors / Yoani Sánchez

"Supply and demand" bicycle taxi

Every so often a new campaign appears in our media, some offensive against certain social or economic phenomenon. Lately the campaign is directed against the mobile vendors, those sellers of fruits and vegetables who transport their goods on a tricycle or other wheeled device. The official journalists argue that such traders operate under the “capitalist” law of supply and demand, rather than making prices more affordable for consumers. They also criticize the fact that they offer their products by the unit, rather than by pounds or kilograms, which gives them room for inflated prices. Although this is a problem that hurts us all, I don’t think we will solve it with appeals to the vendors’ conscience.

The mobile vendor supplies those neighborhoods lacking in farmers markets, and especially during the hours that those that do exist are closed. Their prices also take into account — although the official TV doesn’t recognize this — the time they save their clients who no longer need to travel or to stand in the long lines of a “state market.” For most working women who come home after five to invent a meal, the cry of “Avocados and onions!” shouted at their doors is a salvation. It’s true that the costs of none of these products bear any relation to their salaries, but nor does the produce on these mobile stands rot for lack of buyers. The fact that someone should have to work two days to buy a squash is not an expression of excess on the part of the vendor, but rather of the miserable wages paid.

It’s surprising, for example, that the concerned prime time news reporters don’t take off on the excesses at the stores that sell in convertible pesos, where to buy a quart of oil costs an entire weeks wages. The difference between the mobile vendors and these hard-currency stores is that the first are operated by the self-employed while the latter are the property of the State. Thus, we will never see a report denouncing the extremely high mark-up added to the costs of importing or producing some food offered at the so called “shoppings.” Because it’s better to look for a scapegoat and to use it to explain the life of famine and culinary greyness in which we are submerged. For now, the blame is laid on the mobile vendors. So you should run to your balcony — right now — and watch them pass through your street, because very soon they may no longer exist.