Police sweep vendors from the portals of Havana

Police sweep vendors from the portals of Havana

These days, the urban landscape of Havana is missing an important element: the informal vendors who, in parks and portals, offer everything from matchboxes to instant soda packets. A police operation carried out last week has swept these stalls with essential products that are scarce in state stores.

“Not a single one was left. These portals on Galiano street were always full of people selling many useful things for the home,” lamented a resident of Central Havana on Monday who approached the central avenue with the intention of buying a gasket for his Italian coffee maker. “At first I thought he was very early and they hadn’t arrived, but a neighbor told me that the police had taken them out of here.”

According to this resident in the place, the raid had several moments. “Some were arrested, they took away all the merchandise, others were fined and warned that if they are seen around here again then the fine will be even higher,” he explains to 14ymedio Luisa, a resident of nearby Águila Street who rents out part of her living room for informal vendors to store their merchandise.

“Many of the things they sell are not available anywhere else, for example clothing dyes, lighters for gas stoves or shoe polish”

The operation reached the fair for self-employed workers also located on Galiano street. Although those who sell in that place have a license to market handicrafts and other merchandise of private production, according to the police, they were offering industrial products brought from abroad or bought in stores in freely convertible currency.

The bustling local was practically empty this Tuesday and without the go in and out of clients that has characterized it for years. Through the portals of Galiano, uniformed men can be seen passing by every so often, monitoring the area so that the merolicos do not settle again. The occasional daredevil manages to take advantage of the fact that the agents are leaving to quietly proclaim some scrubbing sponges or some small bags of detergent.

“There are people who say that it is the fault of the resellers who monopolize the little they take out in the store and then sell it, but most of the things that these merolicos sold are brought from abroad,” explains the woman, referring to the mules that import all kinds of merchandise from Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic and the United States.

“If right now you need a sewing needle, where do you buy it?” asks Luisa. “Many of the things they sell are not available anywhere else, for example clothing dyes, lighters for gas stoves or shoe polish,” the woman lists. “None of them have gotten rich selling all those trinkets,” she stresses.

The panorama, when walking along Calle Reina or Boulevard de San Rafael, is still strange without the small tables or blankets on the floor of these informal merchants. The hope that some of his most assiduous clients have is that the waters will rise to their level and soon, when the police raid against them ends, and then the stalls will return with tubes of glue and belts for men.

“They do this every so often, but afterward the merolicos recover their spaces,” considers another neighbor. “Now they are back at the battle against illegalities but they don’t want to recognize that these vendors are solving a problem.” In the Fe del Valle park, where until a few days ago the tables alternated with bargains and school supplies, now there are only a few people sitting on the benches or connecting to the Wi-Fi zone. It looks like the same place it did a few weeks ago, but it’s not anymore.

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