Without a Bank and an Internet Connection, the Cuban ‘Guajiro’ Wants To Have Cash in Hand

The battle to “update” the guajiros (farmers) has become a headache for local leaders. (Guerrillero)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 October 2023 — The official press warned this Saturday that the bancarización* banking reform process in Pinar del Río has found its nemesis: the Cuban guajiro. “They have no culture of that,” complained the authorities, who insist that the farmers – particularly those dedicated to tobacco cultivation – are impervious to the “change of mentality” that the measure entails.

Beyond the resistance of the guajiros to electronic transactions and payments, the Guerrillero newspaper admits that the essence of the problem is that not everyone has a mobile phone. The connection in rural areas is terrible, and the fact that not all workers have bank accounts makes it difficult to exchange digital money.

Niurka Rodríguez, deputy governor of Pinar del Río, complained that she has been trying for more than two years to convince cooperative members to “migrate” to digital with the use of paid applications. “We started with Xetid and EnZona; then we used Transfermóvil,” she said. There was no success. Not even market administrators – there are 16 in the province – made the “effort” to incorporate electronic payment into their daily lives.

According to the authorities, nothing justifies the lack of  bancarización in Pinar del Río. There are 15,000 bank accounts in the province, “markets that have conditions” and officials willing to explain how the process works. But, simply, “even with all this, they haven’t implemented it.”

The tension is at its highest, energized by the fact that “the workforce in the field is scarce,” argues Blanco

The guajiros continue to demand their payments in cash and prefer “money in the hand,” as they say. “If there is no money, they won’t work,” explains Armando Blanco, a state tobacco administrator from Consolación del Sur. “I have a phone, and for me it would be a convenience to be able to pay the men out there without having to go to the bank, but they don’t like it. They ask for cash, because from here to their house they buy a bag of bread, a packet of soda powder, something they need.”

The tension is at its highest point, energized by the fact that “the workforce in the field is scarce,” argues Blanco, who must pay 300 pesos a day to his workers, in addition to giving them their breakfast and lunch, and “part of what is harvested.” Despite these “guarantees,” without cash, there are no employees.

“They reject the process, because there are no conditions created at the grassroots level for them,” acknowledges Ibraúl Hernández, another president of the state cooperative. “That would lead to more knowledge, more advice. There are producers who do use payment gateways, but traditionally in the life of the guajiro, it is the son who has the cell phone and uses the technology. The older ones like to have the money to invest, under the mattress.”

Hernández describes an increasingly common situation, that of the farmer who goes to a “connected” ration store, and, upon arrival, the clerk tells him that there is no connection. If the State does not set the conditions, it might as well forget about the farmers in towns such as La Palma or Viñales paying with magnetic cards, Hernández insists. “For the guajiro, seeing is believing,” he emphasizes.

Cash payment also brings numerous difficulties, since the order must be made days in advance because the bank is not prepared for large cash withdrawals. “They (the directors of cooperatives) withdraw large amounts,” says Yoania Ramos, head of Electronic Banking of the Bank of Credit and Commerce in the province; hence they need a special authorization from the provincial director every month, before paying the salaries.

Tobacco growers, the most “untamed” sector, demand cash for another practical issue: transport. To travel from the countryside to the main city, the drivers only accept hard currency

The battle for the “updating” of the guajiros has become a headache for local leaders. Tobacco growers, the most “untamed” sector, demand cash for another practical issue: transport. To travel from the countryside to the main city, the drivers only accept cash. “It’s not a whim,” says Rubén García, a tobacco manager. “We have talked to many. The youngest have cards and transportation, so it is easier for them to do that type of activity. We have proposed it in all scenarios; it must be done little by little until we reach all of them. With the farmer, a year goes by, and he doesn’t leave the land.”

For a guajiro, money in the bank is not money, says the economist Yadira García, interviewed by the local newspaper. “My cooperative is located in an area called Canalete, 6.4 miles from the first village, where there is no ATM or bank branch. We are 15 miles from the municipal capital. They reject it because they see it as something they don’t have in their hand. They recognize that it’s their money, that it’s safe, but they can’t use it like that.”

Will bancarización be imposed in rural areas? In the midst of an increasingly serious energy crisis, blackouts and Internet cuts, neither the official press nor the leaders dare to answer in the affirmative.

*Translator’s note: Bancarizaciónrefers to government efforts to reduce the role of cash through a greater reliance on digital payment options.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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