“God knows what it costs me to keep the car rolling,” says José, a former diplomat retired since 1994 and owner of a Lada 2105, made in Russia in the late 80’s.
He receives a pension of about 350 pesos that evaporates to buy tomatoes, rice and tropical fruit. To find the necessary extra money, he rents his car for $25 a day to trusted people, mostly foreign tourists passing through Havana.
Rosario, his wife, is also dedicated to the ‘invento’ (business). She sells coconut filled tarts. Nevertheless, at the end of the month they have their heads in a noose. “We have no relatives in Miami. We have to play it tough”, she says.
When not renting the car, José himself acts as an illegal taxi driver. That is ‘on the side’, evading taxes. He usually hires it to the creditworthy people of the neighbourhood for going out at night to clubs or restaurants for hard currency.
When his car is out of action, he helps his wife to prepare the tarts. Neither his wife nor he pays taxes. “If I take out a license I would have to work every day. I’d rather be an illegal taxi driver. Everything goes into my pocket.”
Also Alicia, a surgeon working for 15 years, evades the taxes. At weekends she rents her car to families with money who decide to go to the beach and other leisure centres.
“I charge less than state taxis”, she says. Also, leaving consultations or ward duty, and returning back home, Alicia hires to people who put out their hand and are heading in the same direction.
“It’s not much money, but at least I cover the gasoline”, said the surgeon, who prays every night to her orishas to send her on a medical mission in South Africa.
According to Alicia, the Cuban doctors in South Africa manage to collect a good sum of dollars. “If they grant me the trip, I can buy a new car and thoroughly repair the house.”
Although the procedure for obtaining licenses is fast and without many obstacles, car owners prefer to rent on the side. The low tax culture of Cubans might be one argument. José has another: “Taxes are too high. If for ten years I have rented the car without paying a license, I do not see why I have to do it now.”
The surgeon Alicia argues that she does not have time to practice as a legal taxi driver. “I make the most of my spare time. Anyway, the government doesn’t pay doctors a fair wage.”
Although there are no figures, the number of people who maintain a business under the table without paying a penny of tax is considerable. They risk being caught by a state inspector but on the island ‘an eye for an eye’ is often practiced: “If the state steals from me, I steal from the state.”
Translated by: Araby