And My 10% of Affection? / Yoani Sánchez

On Monday, all the currency exchanges in the country had a very busy day. The one closest to my house opened up with a line of fifty people who rebuked the clerk. The news that parity was being restored between the Cuban convertible peso and the United States dollar had been announced on the early edition of the morning news. With a lot of journalistic awkwardness, rather than simply stating in plain language what the change consisted of, the presenters read the resolution — technical language and all — as it had been published in the Official Gazette. By the end, few knew for sure the current value of those greenbacks that come from the North. Even so, thousands of people descended on banks and currency kiosks to exchange money with the faces of Lincoln, Franklin or Washington.

The day was marked by frustration because there were those who had the illusion that they would also narrow the distance between “national money” — in which salaries are paid — and the other currency, the Cuban convertible peso, known as the chavito and indispensable for acquiring the greater part of what we need. But no, the measure consisted solely of devaluing the convertible peso by 8% with relation to the US dollar. The word “parity” generated great confusion because the annoyed customers found it difficult to understand that there is still a 10% exchange fee to turn dollars into cash. In this way the government hopes to stimulate the movement of dollars into banking channels, while continuing to penalize dollars that come into the country in a personal way, in many cases brought in by so-called “mules.” The banking adjustments are needed and urgent, as the adopted resolution is like a drop in the ocean of the absurd monetary system’s needed repairs. The pace of these measures is drowning us; the timidity eating away at our pockets.

Thus, in the line at my neighborhood currency exchange, two days ago, the discomfort was evident and even led to altercations among those waiting. The climax came when an old woman received about 87 centavos for each dollar exchanged. “My son works hard to send this money and look what they turn it into,” she said. A Party activist also waiting to exchange “enemy” money admonished her not to complain so much, because in the end she was privileged, having the good luck to receive remittances from abroad. He told her, “The least you can do is give 10% to the country which needs it.” The lady retorted quickly and so accurately that everyone fell silent, “Yes, indeed, I receive help from abroad, but every day I suffer the absence of my children. Is the country going to give me 10% more affection?” The line dissolved in couple of minutes.

16 March 2011