14ymedio, Yoani Sanchéz, Havana, 2 July 2021 — Before he was arrested and taken to the State Security barracks in Havana, the artist Hamlet Lavastida had been accused by government voices of promoting the writing of phrases on the Cuban peso (CUP) bills circulating on the island. Now, locked in Villa Marista, investigators seek to turn these incriminations into a crime that puts him behind bars. But, the indictment limps at several points, some legal, others ethical and many monetary.
The national currency, those banknotes that bear the faces of various heroes of independence, have long been systematically tainted by the very authorities that issue them. The peso was dishonored when it was condemned more than a quarter of a century ago to be second-rate money, which was not used to buy in the well-stocked stores, popularly known as shopping malls, which were opened in the midst of the crisis. A coin that is stained by its little value and that condemned to misery whoever carried it in their pockets.
I remember seeing workers in shabby clothes approach a market cash register and not be able to pay for the merchandise they were carrying. “This is in dollars,” the clerk would say almost reluctantly. Our money was not used at that time to contract for a mobile phone line, pay for a night in a hotel or buy a ticket for a trip abroad. They humiliated the Cuban peso so much that taking those bills out of one’s pocket is still more a source of shame than pride.
It is enough to read the three letters CUP to know that what we will receive in return will be impaired service, a lot of abuse of the customer, and low quality merchandise. Our every-day peso has been disdained by the Central Bank of Cuba, which created a more colorful and powerful emulator, which for more than 25 years overshadowed what should have been the country’s main currency. The so-called chavitos – Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) – were a greater offense to the national currency than any phrase, even an expletive, that an indignant citizen might stamp on their watermark.
Lavastida’s idea of writing 27N, next to the face of José Martí, is not what tarnishes or insults paper money. It has been the terrible management of the economy, the official historical disregard for the Cuban peso, the segregation between those who can access the stores that take payment only in freely convertible currency – where prices are expressed in US dollars – and those who only have CUP, along with the little signs that say “payment exclusively with Visa or Mastercard” – at the gates of certain state offices – those who have smeared blood and shit on every bill that circulates on this Island. This, indeed, is an outrage, a tremendous crime.
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