Human Rights in Cuba

Time To Change

November 2011
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Waiting for help
Waiting for help

Street Vendors or Walkers / Yoani Sánchez
Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sánchez

"I want a donut with meringue," says the kid in his red and white
uniform to a vendor who never stops walking back and forth. A wide band
of cloth around his shoulders supports the wooden and acrylic box filled
with cakes, cookies and pastries. Tony is the most famous baker in the
neighborhood. He opened his first dessert kiosk over a decade ago and
has passed through all the stages of the emerging private sector in
Cuba: enthusiasm, annoyance, the numbers not adding up, and even turning
in his license. Now he lives in a time of revival along with 346,000
self-employed workers who — especially in the last year — are prominent
on the streets of the whole country.

This time Tony didn't want to keep the little shack outside the Tulipan
station where he sold so many peanut candies. The high price of
leasing a space from the State made him give up his old post amid the
bustle of the avenue and the whistles of the locomotives. Cleverly, he
noticed that the license for street vendor has much lower taxes and
decided to devote himself to walking the street corners outside schools.
He figured that this way he wouldn't have to pay for electricity or
securing his kiosk with half a dozen locks so it wouldn't be robbed in
the night, much less have to feed the cops for free from his tiny
counter. Giving up a fixed location for the mobility of his two legs
seemed to offer only advantages.

In the fine print of the "street vendor" license, however, it is unclear
how long Tony can stand in one place. Each inspector interprets in his
own way how long these "nomadic dessert sellers" can occupy the same
site. With the result that, so far this month, our neighborhood
entrepreneur has spent so much in fines and free muffins to these
implacable supervisors that the high costs of his previous license look
like peanuts. Now, Tony has a line of children following behind him
asking for a donut here and an empanada there, and he can't stop. He
walks from Boyeros Street to tony 26th Avenue and asks himself why this
emerging sector has to be plagued with so many absurdities, so many
limitations. A decision is taking shape in his mind: to become part of
the 25% of the self-employed who have permanently cancelled their licenses.

16 November 2011

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Zapata lives
Zapata lives
No place to live
No place to live