14ymedio/Yucabyte, Havana, September 22, 2023 — What’s driving the Cuban government to adopt new banking measures in the midst of a nationwide cash shortage? Which restaurants in Havana are being secretly managed by the children and grandchildren of senior Armed Forces’s officials? What event will get so out of control that the island’s frustrated inhabitants will take to the streets in a new wave a protests? 14ymedio and Yucabyte took a look at the rumors making the rounds on social media in August. While they do not answer these questions, they do attest to how some Cubans interpret the country’s current situation and how they visualize its future.
Most of the rumors about new monetary regulations announced in early March — what the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) is calling bancarización — center on the suspicion that the measures are not just about taming short-term inflation. There is fear that the real intention is to allow officials to keep closer tabs on small and medium-sized businesses (MSMEs). There is also the assumption that the reason these businesses are being required to pay their employees electronically is to stoke worker discontent and hinder their expansion.
There have also been rumors that several MSMEs have had to close due to the havoc caused by the new banking requirements. Several commenters claim that those that have managed to survive bancarización are now being monitored more closely than ever by the government.
The informal market has been severely impacted by the currency shortage which, according to rumors, has led to the emergence of a new service provider: the cash broker.
Cubans have spent the last several weeks in vain, lining up at ATMs. Dozens of commenters on social media complain the machines have no cash. One of them reported that this has led officials of several Havana boroughs such as Mariano to simply declare them out of service.
The informal market has been severely impacted by the currency shortage which, according to rumors, has led to the emergence of a new service provider — the cash broker — who makes money by charging a commission, generally 10% to 12% of the face value of peso banknotes. A statement by BCC vice-president Alberto Quiñones describing this activity as “illegal conduct” confirmed the existence of a market in which virtual money is exchanged for banknotes.
A few days later, official media outlets made an announcement that confirmed another widespread rumor, that the nation’s gasoline stations would no longer be accepting cash payments. This quickly led to other rumors such as the one that the electric utility company, Unión Eléctrica, would start charging its customers electronically.
The level of discontent on the island over economic instability and inflation is so high that, according to some on social media, it is even impacting certain segments of the Communist Party, the Armed Forces and the Interior Ministry. Some senior government officials, especially those involved in the management of government-run MSMEs, are unhappy with the new banking regulations due to the obstacles they present for their businesses.
Comments have also been made on social media about connections between the children and grandchildren of senior government leaders and the sight of of high-end cars on the streets of Havana.
Another spate of rumors has focused on the network of restaurants, bars and companies that the descendants of Cuba’s “old guard” now control. Some of those posting on social medio point out that El Biky — a restaurant rumored to be owned by the former president’s daughter, Mariela Castro — seems to have no problem importing products that it later sells.
The most persuasive evidence, they say, is the wide menu selection and the fact that the names of the restaurant’s four partners remain unknown, as 14ymedio has reported. This newspaper also noted that El Biky opened a new location a few weeks ago at the José Martí International Airport.
Comments have also been made on social media about connections between the children and grandchildren of senior government leaders and the sight of of high-end cars on the streets of Havana. Several commenters have shared photos of a Porsche with a Texas license plate parked along Havana’s seaside boulevard, the Malecón.
In contrast to all the focus on luxury, other rumors about police refusing to confront the wave of crime plaguing the island are becoming ever more common on social media. Some commenters have pointed out that police officers themselves have formed a network to stop vehicles at checkpoints in Havana and confiscate, without any legal basis for doing so, food that citizens are trying to transport from one province to another.
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