The Capital Dresses Itself for the Fair

It is organized for the weekends in the city of Havana.  It takes place in public spaces, avenues or wide plots of undeveloped land.  Trucks arrive and improvise points of sales- some sell directly from their vehicles, on boxes, on the floor.  The offers vary:  viands (potato, sweet potato, yucca, bananas), fruits, vegetables, meat derivatives, and hardware tools, among other things.

Local restaurants offer fast food under thick colored carps:  fried chicken, smoked pork, and beer.  Lunch-sellers with tall white hats and squared pants prepare pork sandwiches, ham, hot dogs, or breaded fish.

There are sky-rocketing prices.  Just one kilo of papaya costs 20 pesos (one dollar).  Black beans are 10 pesos per pound (half a kilo).  Well, at least what is supposedly a pound.  Manuel Montoya, 65 years of age, is retired.  He always finishes stressed and with high blood pressure due to the displeasure he goes through when he has to purchase some viands and meat.

“Despite the prices, the sellers try to swindle you when they weigh the product.  I always take a small personal weight and whatever I buy usually weighs up to two pounds less than those measures given to me by the sellers,” points out Montoya while he tosses around yuccas and sweet potatoes that are full of reddish dirt.

Hygiene is not the specialty of the viand, vegetable, and fruit sellers.  In Cuba, agricultural products are not taken aside and cleaned.  They are brought in bulk in bags and boxes and they get all mixed in platforms or on the floor, together with dirt, rocks, and bugs.

The Red Plaza of La Vibora, in the municipality of 10th of October, which is actually neither a plaza or painted red, and is nothing but  a 260 foot wide street, is converted into a mixed flea market on Saturdays and Sundays.

Besides vegetables and other foods, they sell recycled clothes, plumbing products, and efficient light bulbs.  The good stuff starts early in the morning.  Refrigerated trucks that offer fresh fish for 15 to 20 pesos per pound arrive to the rhythm of Willy Chirino and Isaac Delgado, exiled Cuban salseros who live in Miami and are censored by state media.

They also sell turkey, chicken, and cured meats.  It usually sells out very quickly.  The lines are long and many people wake up very early to be one of the first ones.

Those people from Havana attend these fairs in mass.  But they are very shocked by the abusive prices, like Josefa Cerdena, 60 years of age, and who is a housewife.  “One mango is sold for 5 or 10 pesos, while a mamey is sold for 15 pesos,” says the lady with her eyes wide open.  Other fruits, like guavas, oranges, and grapefruits are just as expensive.  However, there is an abundance of potato, cabbage, and tomato.

Despite the fact that the aggressive June heat quickly decomposes vegetables and fruits, the prices stay just the same.  They have a news series on TV that has criticized the inefficient form of commercializing these products and the scandalous corruption displayed by many of the vendors.

According to official sources, the decrease and devaluation of fruit and vegetable quality, over 750 thousand pesos (30 thousand dollars) is lost daily, in the capital alone.

We know where that money ends up.  The majority ends up in the pockets of the administrators, while the minimum goes to the sellers.

Whatever the case may be, these weekend street sales are a relief for thousands of families.  With pesos, they can purchase merchandise that they lack.  It’s true that such fairs have a common denominator:  the long lines.

Ivan Garcia

Photo:  Kirsty Stephenson, Flickr

Translated by Raul G.