Tuesday, May 3 was a hectic day in Havana. At midday, while the preparations were being completed for Chanel’s fashion show, a fire engine rolled down Carlos III Avenue towards the corner of Belascoaín to put out the burning premises of a Yumurí store.
That night, when the luxurious French firm presented its show, dozens of unauthorized street vendors scrambled from the police, who had come to seize their meager goods.
The fire at Yumurí turned out to be small. However, a large group of experts and officials from the Ministry of Interior showed up anyway, investigating a possible act of sabotage and suspecting and a conspiracy behind it. Minutes before "Javert's raid against les miserables," a fire engine pulled up at the corner of Reina and Campanario, alerted of a possible collapse.
The police moved along the left sidewalk of Carlos III (looking at the street from the shopping center on it). Requisitioned were old books, well-used clothes, washed at the last minute; connection cables for home appliances (God only knows if they worked), blender casings, old radios, Russian cameras ... They call these vendors buzos (divers) because they often rummage through garbage cans looking for their wares.
Several bicycle taxi operators riding along the other sidewalk demonstrated solidarity: "Hurry up, here come the cops." The impromptu merchants rushed to pick up what they could, fearful of receiving fines or going to jail.
Fortunately for some, the officers stopped by a man in a wheelchair, across from the large entrance to the Baptist church of Aposento Alto. The woman accompanying him berated a couple of police, and there began a long dispute that favored the vendors. One who was going to ditch his goods received some encouragement: "Come one, you have time to pick them up, they're delayed with the cripple."
In the end the officers demonstrated some sympathy and let the man in the wheelchair and the woman go. That sufficed. The sidewalk was deserted in just a few minutes. Those who had set up before the couple did not have much time to react. In their hasty flight, they abandoned numerous items.
Although the police and les miserables left the area, the sprawling granite grounds retained evidence of the raid. A man approached, curious, not knowing what had happened just minutes prior, examined some books, hesitated when taking one in his hands, and looked around. "Don't worry about it, my friend. Take it," said a drunk there. "They left it there because the police came and the vendors took off running."
"I love literature, and I really like this book," the man explained, as if to proffer a justification.
If he were to read the whole book he would discover Victor Hugo, whose great novel Les Miserables seems to be played out in Havana:
"Man, subjected to extreme necessity, is pushed to his limits. There comes a point, moreover, where the unfortunate and the infamous are grouped together, merged in a single fateful word."