Bahamian Vendors Charged With Possession of Counterfeit Goods
Seven of the nine Bahamian straw vendors, arrested on Saturday at JFK airport in New York City, were charged in a US court yesterday for possession of counterfeit goods.
The other two, a 17-year-old girl and another vendor who did not take part in the purchase of illegal goods, were released.
The seven women were taken into custody by the United States Customs and Border Control Protection (CBP) after they checked in for their jet Blue flight on Saturday. They had already checked suitcases filled with counterfeit bags and other goods including jewelry.
Instead of waking up and vowing to change their evil ways, straw vendors in Nassau are determined to find new ways to obtain the illegal merchandise.
President of the Straw Business Persons Society, Esther Thompson, admitted that many vendors go to the U.S. specifically to purchase counterfeit merchandise, which is sold on the black-market there.
She told a local news reporter that unless someone can provide a means for Bahamian vendors to get the bags without risking getting caught by US authorities, the situation could lead to a serious loss of profits for the market and the country.
Thompson also dismissed efforts by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism to promote authentically Bahamian-made goods, saying straw vendors have no part of that patriotism or loyalty to the mission.
“Straw vendors are not caught up in what the Bahamas is caught up in. This truly Bahamian thing… You do what you’ve got to do to survive in business,” Ms Thompson told The Tribune.
The fact is, most Bahamian straw vendors are criminals, deriving the majority of their income from selling illegal counterfeit merchandise – “knock-offs” of products manufactured by Gucci, Prada, Dolce and Gabana, Juicy Couture and other designer fashion goods.
A stroll through Nassau’s downtown straw market reveals that virtually every stall sells at least some fake designer goods. Despite pledges from the Royal Bahamas Police Force, which is under pressure by U.S. authorities to eradicate such behaviour, the sales of counterfeit products has only increased over the years, mainly because the Bahamas government is all talk and no action.
When a vendor was asked if she thought she would get in trouble for selling the fake merchandise, she said, “my brother is a policeman, so I think I am safe”.
Long-time straw vendor, Wendy Nixon, standing in front of her stall draped with counterfeit bags, was somewhat blasphemous about the situation, saying she is “praying” for the vendors. She did not say whether she was praying that her colleagues would change their criminal behaviour, or praying that they would get away with their crimes.
Nixon had no remorse for selling illegal products.
“I have to take care of my family and this is the only way I know how to take care of my family. I’m not trying to steal, I’m not going on the streets to rob no one. All we are doing in the market is trying to make an honest living”.
She did not explain how selling illegal products could possibly constitute an “honest living”.
Monique Seymour, another vendor, said the straw work does not sell as much as the fake designer bags. She justified her criminal activity by saying that if vendors had to depend solely on their straw work, many of them would not be able to support themselves.
She also admitted that most of the straw merchandise that is sold as “authentically Bahamian” is anything but.
“…where is the raffia coming from? China. And where is the straw coming from? Haiti. So you think they’re authentically Bahamian? No they are not.”
Another vendor, identified in the Tribune as Mrs Roberts, said that The Bahamas has developed a reputation among tourists as a place to buy counterfeit goods. Not exactly the reputation the country needs or wants.
Meanwhile, Nina Humes, a legitimate straw vendor, had no sympathy for the women who had been arrested.
“They reap what they sow,” she said. “They got the warning years ago and they didn’t listen, so that’s what they get. They were given chances. Sometimes I try to sell straw bags and the tourists look to the left and they see a knock-off bag and I’m left standing there with the straw bag in my hand,” Humes told a Nassau Guardian reporter.crime