Cuban merchants defy ban on sale of imported clothes
Havana (AFP) – Privately-owned small retailers in communist Cuba are
defying a government order to stop selling imported clothing or face
Imported clothing is in high demand in Cuba because foreign apparel is
cheaper and of higher quality than threads sold in state-run stores.
“We have been here for three years selling without a problem and abiding
by the law, and now they say that this is over?” asked Nadia Martinez,
32. “We are not going to close our business.”
Martinez has a government license to work as a seamstress, but in
practice runs a modestly successful business selling imported clothes on
Galiano Street, one of Havana’s busiest commercial avenues.
The clothes are not imported by the government, but rather brought in by
Cubans traveling to places like Ecuador, Mexico, Spain and the United
Until now, the government had seemed to look the other way as she
stretched the scope of her legal employment. But it now appears it may
regulate away her economic success story.
In 2010 President Raul Castro expanded the list of government-approved
self-employment occupations as part of a very gradual reform of its
Castro announced that over the following years he would also be slashing
the country’s five-million strong bureaucracy — this on an island with
a population of about 11 million — as a cost-cutting measure.
Today more than 430,000 Cubans work for themselves or in small
businesses. Authorized job categories include restaurant owners,
barbers, electricians, plumbers, mechanics and other skilled trades.
Privately owned beauty salons and family-owned restaurants known as
“paladares” proliferated, often operating from the back of people’s houses.
The government, however, remains the country’s largest employer, and
central planners still try to control the cash-strapped economy.
Deputy Labor Minister Marta Elena Feito recently announced that the
government would fine businesses and people found selling imported
apparel or re-selling clothing that originated in state-run stores.
Authorities have long tolerated the clothing vendors, and even though
Feito said the measures would be enforced “immediately,” no vendor has
been forced to shut down.
“We’re waiting for them to come explain the unexplainable to us, because
closing us down cannot be a solution,” said Ledibeth Sanchez, 29,
another Galiano Street vendor.
A few blocks away Carlos Medina, 44, works at the “Fashion Passions”
boutique on Dragones Street. The well-stocked store sells jeans,
blouses, T-shirts and imported dresses.
“Everything was going very well and suddenly they change it all,” said
Medina. He said vendors and store employees are fretting about being
potentially being forced to shutter.
“Nobody has notified us, but if they give us the order to close, we’ll
close,” he said in a resigned tone.
Omara Cambas, 46, a former Communist Youth national leader, opened the
“Catwalk Workshop” clothing boutique in the Havana neighborhood of El
Vedado just three months ago.
“This measure would affect us a lot — the fact is, I’d be without
work,” said Cambas.
A key reason so many people have joined the ranks of self-employed —
aside from state job cuts — is that state salaries average around $20 a
month. Though people may not have to pay for housing here, that is not
enough for most to put food on the table for their families or buy clothing.
Castro, 82, took over from his ailing older brother Fidel in 2006 and
has chosen not to dramatically open up Cuba’s economic or political
system. Fidel Castro led the nation through five decades of Cold War
strains with the neighboring United States.
Raul Castro has sought to liberalize Cuba’s socialist economy a bit and
encourage more private entrepreneurship, but at the same time maintain a
key role for the Cuban state through joint ventures.
Since 1962, Cuba has been under a full US trade embargo. But US goods
routinely move through third countries or are resold by people traveling
Source: “Cuban merchants defy ban on sale of imported clothes – Yahoo