Julia is 72 years old. In the afternoons, after five o’clock she sits at the street corner. It is the busiest hour on the street. She uses a small bench and she puts a piece of board on her lap. Over the board she lays a bar of Nacar soap, a tube of toothpaste, her ration of cigarettes, lollipops, instant soft drink packages and plastic bags. She doesn’t make much, but she makes some money.
Several times the neighborhood “Chief” has warned her. In Cuba it is illegal to trade without a legal license issued by the authorities. She hides, she feels sad but she has no alternative. She knows she is breaking the law. She is aware that laws are made to be respected, but she has to survive.
She must eat every day and pay the monthly electric bill. These are her only expenses. She receives a pension of 150 Cuban pesos a month (about 6 dollars). From this, they deduct 60 to pay for home appliances assigned by the State. That leaves her with 90 Cuban pesos to live on, that is less than 4 dollars. Her children help her out, but they too are unable to manage to support their own families.
What Julia makes will never turn her into a nouveau riche. Her “commercial activity” is economically insignificant. Selling on the street will never cause her to end up in court. However, It constitutes a crime, subject to fines.
At the end of 2008, after the hurricanes, she had to pay a 300 Cuban peso fine (about 12 dollars). Two plainclothes cops caught her red-handed. In addition, they confiscated all her merchandise.
She had to sell twice as much to pay the penalty and recoup the investment in the lost merchandise. She got the money with the proceeds from what she sells. She paid the fine with more illegal sales. However, Julia believes that what she does causes no harm to society.
She believes that stealing or begging are much worse and asserts that she will continue to break the law as long as they are made to be broken.
By: Laritza Diversent
Photo: A certain look, Flickr
Translation team included: Habanero and Statue of Liberty