THE BLOG

The State Can't Compete, Forces Cuban Entreprenuers Back to the Black Market

Private businesses must clear out their merchandise before December 31.

In an album for weddings there are photos of blouses, pants, shoes. They aren't good photos, but you can see the labels and brands, which is most important to the buyers. They have everything: evening wear, tennis outfits, socks for teenagers, sportswear, underwear. Most of the goods come from Panama and Ecuador, but they also come through Terminal 2 at the international airport. So-called "mules" bring them on flights from Miami, and also through Nassau and the Cayman Islands. Ephemeral fashions, trendy colors, synthetic fabrics, big names painted on the fabric, it all fills the precarious catalogs displayed door-to-door.

The so-called private "boutiques" or "trapi-shopping" ('trapi' comes from the word for 'rag'), have been hit hard legally in recent weeks. After becoming a growing phenomenon in the country's most central doorways and streets, they've now been given an ultimatum to clear out their merchandise. They have until 31 December to sell what they already have in stock, but 2014 will be "a year free of imported clothing sales by the self-employed." That privilege will be enjoyed only by State stores, where a bathing suit can cost three months' wages. Merchandise that is old, poor quality, and out of style, meant the government stores couldn't match the more modern and cheaper offerings provided by the private sector.

Reluctant -- or unable -- to compete, the Cuban State has put an end to the business of "trapi-shopping." Several of the best-known and air-conditioned places have already closed their doors to the public. Some have invested in redecorating their living rooms to receive their customers, having seen that their prosperous business days are numbered. However, as happens in a country with so many prohibitions, some are already looking for a solution to the current crisis. For now, they are shifting from doorways to catalogs; from on-site sales to in-home shopping. No law can stop people from looking for what they need. So they will go underground, continuing to sell skirts, shorts, sandals... with that aura, so attractive, of the new and forbidden.

Yoani's English Language blog is here, and her posts also appear in TranslatingCuba.com here, along with those of over 100 independent voices writing from the Island. You can help translate Cuban bloggers at HemosOido.com here.