Maybe the most impressive image of Havana is the mixture of old scrambled buildings with the rumbling daytime routine of old cars throughout its shattered streets. When the first sunlight hits the smoky silhouette of the city, Havana begins its daily life with cars, bicitaxis and people walking around in their way to their job, or in their way to survive the hardships of a life that is counted day by day with no future in their hands.
You walk along those streets and in the middle of the day you can find young and old people, children, adults, men and women seating on the sidewalks or fastening inside the few shattered stores in downtown Havana, and you could wonder how many people in that big city is working, earning their daily sustenance, and how many people is just wandering the city in their search of something. The answer could be astonishing: none and everybody.
In Havana everything is on sale: the avocado you can buy in the corner of any street, or even in the dark entrance of one of those cramped buildings surrounding Neptuno or Galeano; the vitamins you couldn’t find in the pharmacy across the street maybe somebody is selling in front of the next store; the old black man carrying a little cart with guavas, or any fruit stolen in any place outside the capital is looking around, trying to avoid any policeman to sell their precious bargains close to the empty grocery store around the corner; even inside the next store around the street you can eventually guess who is trying to find something, and who is trying to find someone to sell the same item but from the black market.
Cuba is a huge black market, and Havana is like the Capital City of that market. In every doorway of every store you could find groups of people selling something, and that something is coming from the arches of the Estate. It is a long chain of little robberies. The person who works in a hospital steal the essentials medicines to sell them to somebody who probably is selling computer components stolen from his job, and that one probably finds a client who already stole a pair of shoes in a store and who is selling the shoes to the first fellow selling medicines.
Life is a circle. And for the Cuban, life is a permanent robbery to the big thief: the Estate.
The philosophy is simple: the average Cuban salary is 15 dollars per month, and with that little misery you can’t live in a country where nothing is secure. What you found yesterday today could be too late to find it. When the ups and downs of Cuba’s policy, people had grew afraid to lose their most essential in life: hope.
After all, it is not the first time you woke up with the news that something that you did for secure yesterday today somebody took off from your monthly ration book and you have to find it in any way possible, and that way many time is ending in the black market.
Time to time the government had tried to battle the evasive black market, but it exists due the lacking of everything in Cuba. And the lacking of everything is blamed to the US embargo, but then you find out that the medicines needed in our hospitals are sent to Venezuela to the Program “Barrio Adentro” of the sponsored Hugo Chavez, and you begin to question then if every single item missing in your grocery bag is in someplace out there: in Africa, in Haiti or in the North Pole.
The Estate blames the embargo, but it had sponsored any single crazy plan conceived by Castro: from war in far-off places in Africa to weapons in El Salvador, meanwhile you have to “resolve” with a salary of 15 dollars per month. Is that realistic?
Our government is trading our economy to obtain leftovers of political support here and there when their citizens are lacking the essentials in their life. Then, it is not rare that when the welcomed tourist arrives to any hotel desk to change their currency the person in charge is charging him with an extra for his pocket, and that it is the reality in every single hotel desk nationwide.
Every cashier in any single store in Cuba had tried to alter the prices to get some extra money for their finances. Big stores within hotels had been found with merchandise which source is the black market. The franchise Caracol which trade merchandise, whose customers are mainly tourists in hotels, had found its trademark store in Habana Libre Hotel full of illegal merchandise whose destiny is the black market. And that is only the tip of the iceberg, because the same officials who found those illegalities had been involved in corruption in the main branch of the franchise. The, who is not stealing something in Havana?
Havana is the heart of all this huge black market, but the whole Cuba is a black market in its brink to survive. And nobody escape from this stigma: big names, and simple citizens. The big names don’t need to hide a pair of shoes, or steal a cigar day by day to later make a cigar box to sell in 25 dollars in the black market, or even steal supplies from any funeral home to sell to people who has CUC (convertible currency).
Big names had kidnapped the laws and hold in their hands firmly all the threads in Cuba. They even decide the life or death of our citizens, the silence or the voice of our media. They don’t need to steal what they already did in the past: the entire destruction of all the mechanisms that make any democratic country to question corruption, mismanagement and repression. They own the laws. They made the laws. They apply the laws.
Meanwhile, the simple citizen wakes up early morning bewildered about what it is going to happen during his journey to the night, what he needs to take from his job and sells to his neighbour or friend, or simple risk his life in one of the rafters crossing the Florida Straits to find a normal life at the other side of that sea who is decorating the seashore of our Havana.