Reports from Cuba: August arrives but not the uniforms

Luz Escobar writes in 14yMedio from Havana via Translating Cuba:

August Arrives but Not the Uniforms

Before the store opens there is already a line of people who fear they won’t be able to get the size they need.

The store opens at 10:00 AM but the line began forming much earlier in front of La Gloria on La Rosa Street in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. It is August 1 and mothers, fathers and grandmothers have been here since before dawn to make sure they get the most desirable sizes of school uniforms “before they run out.” As television reports indicate, the first day of the sale has been delayed several weeks due to a shortage of raw materials, which has led to the scene being repeated in almost every store throughout the city.

Some mothers who arrived with their children fifteen minutes prior to opening are already showing signs of impatience. Others have brought a piece of clothing to match their kid’s size so the child is not subjected to a long wait.

The first employee arrives on time but has bad news. “Everyone please come over here so you can hear,” he says.

“There is a shortage of uniforms in the district. The staff at [the Ministry of Domestic] Commerce made the decision to announce when uniforms will be for sale through the media, in other words through the press and television. You can come back and buy them once they notify you,” he said at the beginning of a speech that was not well received by those present.

“We told you they would be for sale starting today because that was the information we received but that’s all changed now,” he adds. “Since the uniforms have not yet arrived, we cannot sell them.” That’s when the avalanche of anger and complaints begins.

“It’s all about communication. Why didn’t they put up a sign? There are people like me who have been waiting here since 1:00 AM,” says the first mother to raise her hand.

“It’s the same lie, the same old story we’ve heard for years. They are toying with us. There are a lot of working mothers here who have asked for the day off to take care of this. There are pregnant women. It shows a lack of respect. You said the uniforms would be for sale starting today and that’s why we’re here. The minister herself said there would be uniforms, that it was all guaranteed,” shouted one mother.

“They said so on television, that they would begin selling uniforms starting August 1,” says a tiny grandmother in a thin voice.

“This means I’ll have to become a TV news addict,” says the husband of one the women waiting in line, with a hint of irony.

In an effort to calm things down, the store manager comes to the employee’s rescue.

“We had a meeting with the vice-minister and the Commerce director and the problem is that the Playa district in Havana has less than 50% of its supply,” she says.

“Although we were prepared to begin selling uniforms, we are not authorized to do so if the store has not received at least that amount, as is the case with La Gloria,” she explains.

The manager is sympathetic and provides a new date to appease the parents, which they take it with a grain of salt. “Indications are that it will be on Monday, that the sale of school uniforms will begin on Monday,” she says, adding that if that happens, the store will remain open as long as necessary.

She gives those present the store’s telephone number as well as her personal phone number, promising to provide information or confirm Monday’s sale. She warns, however, that tenth grade boys’ uniforms may be unavailable until further notice “because there aren’t any.”

In a statement to 14ymedio the minister of Domestic Commerce, Betsy Diaz Velazquez, confirmed that uniforms would be for sale starting on Monday at the Plaza of the Revolution.

“I just left in the middle of a meeting to come give you the explanation,” she said, admitting that the previous information had been very incorrect.

The sale of school uniforms usually begins sometime between May and June, but this year the vice-minister of Domestic Commerce, Nancy Valdes, announced that they would not be available until the end of June or beginning of August.

Though they had to work longer shifts, trying to finish on time and make the almost three million uniforms required this year, factory workers were still not able to meet the official deadline.

Official press reports indicated on Sunday that uniforms sales had begun in towns in Artemisa, Mayabeque, Sancti Spíritus, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Guantanamo and Isla de la Juventud provinces, adding that sales in the remaining provinces would begin gradually, “most likely in the second half of August.”

“It’s always the same old thing. The higher-ups make mistakes and underlings like us are the ones who pay the price because I am the one who has to face you,” said the manager of La Rosa yesterday. She confirmed that sale had begun in other towns where supplies surpassed the required 50%.

“But you still have to buy the item from your designated outlet. I take responsibility for making sure you get it, for making calls to other stores to find the right size. I’ll even go there to pick it up, no matter where it is,” she promises.

Before leaving, one of the first mothers in line snapped at the employee. “You have tell the leaders they have to inform us about this on the same day they are reporting on the Pan-American games. They could have easily told us yesterday during the Round Table program. If they had done that, we wouldn’t have had to wait in line.”

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