October 4, 2015


Cubans brace for the American invasion : They await the arrival of America's capitalist masses with both desire and dread. Can the world's most committed egalitarian experiment hold? (Doug Struck, OCTOBER 4, 2015, CS Monitor)

The biggest threat to Cuba may be pesos and kooks. Local Cuban salaries are paid in pesos, which would be worth about 4 cents each if they could be exchanged. An average Cuban salary is 471 pesos a month, about $20.  

But foreigners have to trade their money into a different currency, called Cuban convertible pesos, or CUCs - "kooks" - on the street. Everything they buy is in CUCs. So when they hop in a 1957 Chevy to take them to a paladar for dinner, the 15 CUCs they pay the taxi driver is a small bonanza, and the tip to the young English-speaking waiter at the restaurant may exceed his father's paycheck.

It makes for a bipolar economy. Cubans who have access to foreign currency - cab drivers, restaurant workers, hotel clerks, and the owners of the new businesses catering to tourists - are reaping money in multiples of that of Cubans wedded to the local peso.

Everybody wants CUCs. If they aren't in a job to get CUCs legitimately, many Cubans find other means: remittances from relatives overseas, black market trading, or more nefarious occupations. 

"Havana was a disaster," says a young Spanish traveler who fled the city for a more peaceful vacation in the countryside. "Every 15 minutes somebody was offering to sell us drugs or girls."

The disparity in the two economies has warped the labor market. Popular Cuban joke: A woman was complaining about her boyfriend to a companion. "He deceived me," she says to her friend. "He told me he is a waiter. But he's only a surgeon."

But it's not a joke. Cuba's medical profession, a source of national pride and a valued Latin American export, is riddled with defections to the tourism industry.

Posted by at October 4, 2015 4:31 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus