Now that the President of Venezuela has assaulted the stores in his freeform version of “Robin Hood,” with the mistaken and desperate idea of getting the poor on his side, while others stage a faithful version of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” the Cuban leader Raul Castro should imitate him and assault and lower the inaccessible prices that he sets for his impoverished people.
The “hard currency collection stores*” can only be visited by those Cubans who receive remittances from friends and family abroad, or by those nationals who survive through the black market, the majority of them by taking whatever possible from their workplaces. The average salary of an ordinary worker is 450 Cuban pesos (also called “National Money”), which converts to 18 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). A Chinese Panda brand TV is sold in the national network of hard currency stores for 300 CUC, meaning that this average worker would have to work seventeen months to acquire it, when the cost of the TV, according to what a functionary told me secretly, doesn’t exceed 8 dollars each, which converts into a net profit of nearly 38 times the cost.
Of course, this whole “happy dream” for the exploited Cuban worker, could be realized if he can survive for almost a year and a half without eating or grooming or dressing himself, without electricity or water, and God help him if he has a wife and child. Therefore, a common joke among workers is “they pretend to pay you, we pretend to work.”
Years ago I talked with a foreigner who had been interested in importing food to Cuba. The first thing he discovered was that the government did not care to offer a better price to the people, they are only concerned with adding up their profits.
He was alarmed by the 2.40 cents on the dollar for which a bottle of the lowest quality of oil was sold to the people. He would offer the country a business it couldn’t refuse, for example: a bottle of sunflower oil for between 9 and 11 cents per unit, including transportation to the port of entry, less than the 12 to 14 cents they were paying at the moment, without adding on the cost of the functionary who traveled abroad, his costs for food, air transportation, lodging, expenses, etc.
Despite his good offer, it was rejected. After gaining the functionaries’ trust, they explained, between invitations to restaurants and whiskey, that leaving the country was their benefit, because they received commissions from the capitalists they agreed to buy from.
A country led by a wolf, can only turn itself into a pack of wolves. “A madhouse would never be able to organize itself,” the foreigner told me and he never was interested in returning.
The worst part is that he was right.
Lawton Prison settlement. November 2013
*Translator’s note: A literal translation of what the government itself calls its stores that sell goods only in Cuban Convertible pesos.
Translated by: Shane J. Cassidy
28 November 2013