The New Fever for Gold / Luis Felipe Rojas

“The New Fever for Gold”, an article written by Luis Felipe Rojas and published on “Diario de Cuba” November 3rd, 2011.

They had planned for a coffee and ended up with a few empty beer cans on the table.  September was advancing with a wicked heat.  They had arrived in twos, without fear, and very open, but they asked me not to record them.

Just as they showed up, they always come in pairs.  They walk throughout the Cuban East from Manati to Yateras, they go inside the luxurious Versalles neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba and the next day they return home to  Banes, Holguin ready to dig.

They seek gold, silver, precious stones, or any other antiquity which comes up along the way.

“10 k Gold, in scrap, has risen from 7 CUC per gram.  In original jewelry, I sell it for 15, and the one being alloyed with other metals I sell for 12.5 CUC”, says Wilbert, a corpulent tanned man who has been in the business of buying and selling precious metals for 2 years.

Just like the others, Daniel travels accompanied by a relative of his.  He plays the role of announcer, screaming at the top of his lungs, “I buy gold watch cases, and broken or defective golden or silver jewels. I accept propositions.”  He pulls out a golden necklace, nearly 15 centimeters in length, from a small bag.  “It was a woman’s necklace.  Pounded gold, it’s dirty, but it’s 18 k, 5 grams.  With it, I can recover the investment I made last week,” he happily affirms.

There are still some people who saved some of their jewels and keep them as luxuries or relics, but there are those who keep them as a source of money in case of an emergency.  “The best I’ve bought has been an 18 k wedding ring.  It weighed 8 ounces.  A man who wanted his son to become a Spanish citizen brought it to me.  I still have it kept away, even though I’m not a fan of jewelry”, assures Wilbert.

They claim that, in their travels, one week they go to rural areas and the other they go to the cities.  According to Daniel, “in the city we find better trophies” and he displays content in the fact that people cannot differentiate well between “old white gold made with Mexican silver, which pays better”.

They have buyers in bulk in Havana, Matanzas, and Holguin, but they claim that now sales are stuck.  That is why they are buying less in the neighborhoods.  “They say that a few weeks ago they scared a couple of guys smuggling some gold in the airport of the capital.  The big buyers do not want to do business until they see what will happen”, states Wilbert’s business partner, without having any of the others trying to refute him.

“Now, we do not only face the danger of the police but also of common criminals”, points out Daniel, and assures that “you also risk your life with this”.

The danger, the dangers

In their travels they have found themselves submerged in the blackmail of the local police.  In the worst of cases they have been fined 1,500 pesos, have had their materials confiscated, and have been warned to not return to certain neighborhoods.

In the report of Authorized Self- Employment Activities, section 109 includes jewelry repairmen, but they are specified to remain in their homes or some other accepted location.

“There is no legal protection for buying and selling precious metals, that is a luxury reserved solely for the government”, signals Daniel, continuing, “there are people who, when they try to sell you something valuable, they bring up the fact that it is a jewel which was saved from the fury of the 80′s, when Fidel Castro gathered up all the gold and exchanged it for soap, imported shirts, or athletic shoes”.

According to what these new fortune-chasers are saying, in just one good day of selling precious metals one can make up to 60 CUC- as an average- but then you must take lots of it in cash, which is a danger in the event that they bump into someone who is armed.  A young man from Holguin, from the municipality of San German, died last year from several stab wounds in a nightclub in the center of the capital.  Also, a well known buyer-seller found himself in an ugly situation and was not able to get away unharmed when he traveled through a heavily populated neighborhood of Santiago de Cuba.

Among the negotiators which have once again risen like a plague, there are those who “buy jewels for themselves, to make a living, and those who invest their money on properties or put it into circulation to try and see it grow faster”, assures one of those present.

They are all nearly too young and have not done anything but to repeat what their parents, and the government, have already done.  For a few bucks in hard currency they take forgotten or defective jewels from houses.  “Very few people wait around with empty stomachs while wearing a ring with an aqua jewel in the center” says one while holding a silver buckle between his fingers.  Meanwhile, another one who wraps up the conversation assures that “in the end, we are thanking the Soviets for dressing up the Poljot and Raketa watches of those times with gold”.

Translated by Raul G.

4 November 2011