14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 18 August 2022 — With a paper cup in his hand, a man with a tanned face approaches those who pass through Havana’s Central Park. “My daughter suffered an accident yesterday and I need to buy her medicines,” he explains. He has been repeating the same story for years, which he seasons with more lurid details as the economic crisis worsens. A few feet away, a shaved-ice seller cursed because he had been paid with a five-peso bill as if it were 500 pesos. This very common counterfeiting swindle is due to the recent arrival of high-denomination banknotes whose colors resemble lower-value banknotes.
Upon hearing this story, the colleague who helped him push his cart also took the opportunity to talk about the scam he suffered in transfers through his mobile phone, which cost him his whole telephone balance. “You can’t trust people; they say one thing and then try to stab you in the back,” he said.
The feeling of mistrust spreads everywhere, and the most notorious scams of the Special Period are again recounted with fear. From steak made from a carpet to pizza with condoms masquerading as cheese, the urban legends of street fraud return in force to everyday conversations.
But beyond these milestones of deception, the small scam or apparent naivety is the one that’s most widespread on the Island.
This Thursday morning an elderly woman rehearsed an apology for taking a pound of rice without paying from the improvised point of sale located in the park on Carlos III and Belascoaín streets. “Mijo, give it to me and I’ll go right away to the ATM and bring you the money,” the lady repeated several times, but the merchant didn’t buy it. “Go and come back with the 50 pesos and then I’ll give you the rice,” the farmer responded categorically, adding in a lower voice: “I may be a guajiro but I’m not stupid.”
The deception also spreads to private cafes: snacks that show a slice of ham only on the outside but inside are empty, and presumed natural juices that are sold at exorbitant prices and are actually artificial concentrates mixed with water. However, the champion pickpocket is still the State: meat slices that don’t even have the memory of animal origin but are marketed at the price of gourmet food, all-inclusive tour packages where you have to take a glass with you because in hotels they don’t have the packaging to serve drinks, and an internet access service, among the most expensive in the world, which barely guarantees a few hours.
The corner scammer justifies his villainy by pointing to the constant economic crimes committed by the ruling party. He himself is a victim of voracity and state inefficiency. “My old lady, if she goes to the cashier now to get money, she will return tomorrow because there’s a blackout and they’re out of service,” joked another customer from the point of sale on Carlos III Street. The crisis can lead to scams but, at the same time, it’s noticeable that people are more suspicious and don’t allow themselves to be scammed so easily.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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