Sketches of Cuba: Four: Double Currency

One of the most unjust things in Cuba is its double currency. Tourists and visitors from abroad pay for services in CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso). Cubans and locals pay and get paid in pesos cubanos (moneda nacional). Dollars are not accepted anymore, in most places. One has to change dollars to CUC. It’s best to bring Euros as dollars are levied a 10% fee.

One US dollar buys .90 CUC. One CUC is about 24 Cuban pesos.

I have a friend in La Habana who has two university degrees, studied in Moscow, worked in Angola, and now is responsible for a very prominent cultural institution. I do not mention his name because I did not ask his permission to make these statements public. (I will reveal the person’s identity if I asked and had their permission to do so.) Monthly he is paid about 600 pesos cubanos which is about US$25. Doctors, teachers and many other professionals are paid roughly the same. Cubans get a food ration of rice, beans, sugar, salt and oil that is not enough to live on. Some food items are very cheap, like eggs which are 1 peso each. Fruit and vegetables are mostly cheap. Milk is expensive and so are oil and meat. Between the rations and their salary they have to make ends meet. How? Many have relatives abroad who send them money or they have friends and relatives who work in the tourism industry and get paid in CUC. Others eat a lot of bread. You see many fat and overweight people in La Habana mostly from eating bread and other fatty products, but not from having a surplus of food.

We were walking on the streets of La Habana Vieja and we saw a cake vendor. Our friend said to us: “you see that man selling cakes?, he makes more money than I do, because he gets paid in CUC! Just like taxi drivers”. It’s not fair”, he said.

According to many people I spoke to, like a taxi driver in Viñales, the double currency will be “dealt with” in the first quarter of 2014. He, like all folks I spoke to about this matter, wants a system where everyone gets paid in the same currency. His wife is a gynecologist and earns less money than him who drives a taxi. He clearly explains the disparate system of double currency. You can listen to the interview I recorded while riding to Cayo Jutías, in Pinar del Río province, in his 1957 Chevrolet. You can also see the photos of the beautiful, clean, and empty beach.

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