The Humiliation of Cuba’s National Currency

Under the denomination of each CUC banknote, this commitment is read in small letters: “Fully guaranteed by international freely convertible securities.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 24 October 2019 — A few days after the Official Gazette of 13 August 1993 announced the decriminalization of the dollar in Cuba, “the damned currency of the enemy” became the main object of desire for the inhabitants of the Island. To the candid question of “What does a Cuban who has no dollars do?” the most certain answer was: “Look for them.”

More from the uncontrollable tendency to choteo [“irreverent mockery and satire used to undercut authority”*] than out of patriotism, an anonymous author spread through the networks (then analog) a sympathetic parody of the well-known verses that Bonifacio Byrne wrote in January 1899 moved by the outrage he felt on seeing the American flag with the Cuban.

I quote from memory the first three stanzas of that memorable parody.

Upon returning from the Riviera hotel,

With my wallet in mourning and dark,

I eagerly looked for my currency

And saw another one besides my own!

Where is my Cuban pesito,

the most beautiful bill that exists?

I saw it from my house this morning,

and I have not seen a sadder thing …!

With the faith of austere souls,

Today I hold with deep energy,

There should not be two currencies

Where one is enough: mine!

As is well-known, in 1994 the Cuban convertible peso, the CUC, appeared to rescue the lost honor of the national currency and, in November 2004, it was decided to terminate the circulation of the dollar in commercial networks, although having dollars was not again penalized.

As of last Monday, the Central Bank of Cuba enabled new magnetic cards for dollar accounts accessible to ’natural persons’. These cards will be the only ones accepted in the new network of stores that will offer home appliances with a greater variety of products and at lower prices than the ones available to date in the State chain of so-called Hard Currency Collection Stores (TRD).

To clarify doubts (never nonconformities) the state newspaper Granma has published that on these cards “Deposits in Cuban pesos (CUP), or in convertible pesos (CUC) are not allowed. It is a network card referenced in dollars” and adds another bit of bad news: The magnetic cards of collaborators (Cubans working on governemnt “missions” abroad, for whom this card allows them to buy with a 30% discount) also cannot be used for purchases in this new network of stores.

To mention foreign currencies, recently accepted in commercial networks, the popular lexicon has coined the term “Really Convertible Currencies” where the added adverb substantially modifies the adjective convertible, now transformed into a euphemism when, below the denomination of each bill of CUC, this commitment is read in small letters: “Fully guaranteed by international freely convertible securities.”

At the moment, although its exchange value has decreased against the dollar, the CUC is still accepted in the TRD markets, which are increasingly more poorly supplied and where they already accept the Cuban peso (CUP) also known as “national money.”

In this regard, while standing in line at the bank to enable the new card, a young man commented: “The little boy (CUC) that they give me as a stimulus will only serve to eat chicken, sausages and canned sardines.” A man, almost at the end of the line, with that tone of experience so widespread among those who comb gray hair, warned him: “Be patient, it would not surprise me that with the dollars you put on that card you can soon get lobster, shrimp, fish fresh and even beef.”

Perhaps it is this ability to turn everything into folklore, to turn every tragedy into a joke, every government trap in an opportunity to escape, that distinguishes the Cuban way of reacting to problems.

For less than this, right now Ecuador and Chile are almost burning.

*Source: Cuba, A Global Studies Handbook, Ted A. Henken


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