14ymedio, Madrid/Havana, 10 August 2023 — “Bankification will advance in places where conditions exist,” said Julio Antonio Pérez Álvarez, general director of Operations and Payment Systems of the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) in a new edition of the Round Table program dedicated to the financial measures that have revolutionized the warm Cuban August. The official insisted on the gradual implementation of the program, a concept already reiterated on Televisión Cubana last Monday, although some economists have already seen in his speech the first signs of a brake on the plan.
“Yesterday I commented with several colleagues that it seemed the order to cool down the bankification was given,” says Cuban economist Pedro Monreal, upon consulting his colleague in Spain, Elías Amor, who goes much further and talks about the plan’s “burial.” “It was given at the highest level, and they use these straw men to hide from social unrest. Before long we will see something else,” the expert said, grateful for the reference.
In fact, few developments were noted this Wednesday in the program regarding what was already discussed two days ago. The only surprise was for the workers of the primary sector, undoubtedly frightened by the imminence of a process – which must be completed in six months – for which they are not prepared. The BCC made it clear that, for now, they can stop worrying. “This is a gradual process; there are sectors such as fishers or farmers where there is no infrastructure, so it would be irrational to undertake those actions,” argued Pérez Álvarez.
Alexis Trujillo Morejón, president of the Banco de Crédito y Comercio (BANDEC), which operates extensively with this sector, agreed. “We emphasize to the farmers that this process will not affect their operability, their work or the creation of wealth,” he said, calling for calm. He added that he understands the doubts and concerns that these workers have expressed, and that they will be addressed “little by little.”
Trujillo Morejón added that it is the same for the MSMEs (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises) and local development projects. “There are many specifics in the relationships of natural persons with the banks, of the self-employed with the banks … so we are working on giving answers for each case,” he said.
Another piece of news in the speech was the specific creation of branches for “economic actors.” Pérez Álvarez admitted that operations and lines have increased, despite the fact that offices have been open longer. “We are designing it so that every bank operates with the speed and appropriate attention that they need. This leads to a process of reorganization of our offices, and we are not oblivious to organizational problems. We are designing offices that are going to perform the same banking services to customers as before.”
The official said that “the training process at the level of banking structures” has already concluded, although users continue to encounter problems with the extraction of money. Pérez Álvarez repeated that there are no limits on the withdrawal for natural persons, but reality clashes with theory because, despite the rule, the truth is that there are no banknotes in the banks.
This same Wednesday, a woman living in Centro Habana told 14ymedio that, after lining up at the Conill and Marino branch, she was only able to withdraw half of her pension due to lack of cash. On Tuesday, this newspaper also learned of a neighbor of El Vedado who asked her acquaintances anxiously for any amount in bills to be able to buy food, but most rejected the transfer that the woman proposed in exchange. “What are we going to do with those 500 virtual pesos?” wondered a retiree who finally agreed to the exchange.
Daily life was exposed in the words of Pérez Álvarez – “It involves our money, in addition to the fact that the use of cash has not been eliminated in the world, although the trend is to increase the use of electronic payment channels” – as well as those of Ernesto Rodríguez Hernández, Deputy Minister of Communications, also present to talk about connectivity in Cuba.
According to his data, 83% of Cubans have mobile phone coverage, “50% of the spaces in Cuba have 4G coverage and 75%, 3G,” which puts payments with Transfermovil and EnZona at their fingertips. “It was as if I had never made an Internet connection in Cuba in my life or forgotten the frequency of blackouts,” Elías Amor objected on his blog Cubaeconomía.
The deputy minister reviewed the number of operations that are already carried out by electronic payment channels, in theory 29 per second only with Transfermovil (444 million in 2022, many more than with EnZona, 45 million), and insisted that there is no doubt that the efficiency of the service must be improved, but that there are already millions of transactions carried out by this route, especially in supplies.
Telephony (87%) leads the list of electronic payments, followed by taxes (60%) and electricity (40%). “These numbers illustrate trust and security, but also the well-being of citizens, when they can pay electronically for services. What we are trying to do now is to generalize these payments,” said the deputy minister, who also announced the availability of the Youth Clubs to alphabetize by technology a population that he defined as cultured and to which, consequently, he attributed part of the responsibility when it came to achieving the modernization, via banking, of the country.
The broadcast ended with the mandatory ideological and motivational message. “We will be able to aspire to have an increasingly modern country, with a digital transformation that exceeds conceptual issues, and the citizen will see it in practice, enjoying the advantages and benefits of this process.”
But to date, the main concern of Cubans around this issue has not been addressed, as reflected in the forum enabled by Cubadebate: how are private individuals, who solve most products on a day-to-day basis, going to import, if they buy in foreign currency and sell in pesos but lack an official foreign exchange market.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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