Monday, September 22, 2014

Does Being Able to Pay with Either Currency Resolve the Problem?

Does Being Able to Pay with Either Currency Resolve the Problem? /
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
Posted on September 22, 2014

14YMEDIO, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 September 2014 – At an artisan fair
near the Malecon a seller offers unusual wallets. "Designed for a
country with two currencies," says the skilled merchant, while
demonstrating their two separate compartments. Accustomed to living
among convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP), we barely even
notice any more the complications this duality brings us every day. The
additional calculations, the long lines at the exchange kiosks, and the
confusions in speech, requiring that we always make it clear if we are
referring to CUPs or CUCs… are just some of them.

This mess has been slightly eased with the emergence of stores and
markets where you can pay with both currencies. It took them more then
twenty years, from the legalization of the dollar, to eliminate the
problem of going to the nearest CADECA—currency exchange—to convert our
Cuban pesos into chavitos (CUC). This could be a clear example of the
slow pace at which economic relaxations are adopted in the country, if
it weren't for the fact that there are other aspects of national life
where things move much more slowly.

A few years ago a group of dissidents launched the excellent slogan,
"With the same money," to demand a correspondence between the currency
in which wages are paid and that needed to buy products as basic as oil,
soap and milk. I remember that on several occasions some of those
activists were at a café or restaurant and, after eating, they asked for
the bill and paid with the devalued Cuban pesos. This action brought
them arrests by the police, threats and even beatings.

Now the government has inverted the slogan and seems to be telling us,
"for the same product." It doesn't matter if the bill is expressed in
the banknotes without faces—the ones with monuments—which are the
convertible pesos. It is now possible to also settle the bill with those
other pieces of paper, bearing the sober glance of the Apostle—José
Martí—or the stern face of Antonio Maceo. What does difference does it
make what we pay with, or how many security threads this or that
currency has? The central problem remains the divorce between the cost
of living and wages.

A few days ago, official TV broadcast an extensive report about "the
good popular reception given to the measure" of allowing us to pay for
things in both currencies. The Commercial Director of the CIMEX chain of
stores, Barbara Soto, referred to the gradual extension of the
prerogative to a greater number of stores throughout the country. Some
customers interviewed said that the price of every product should be
visible both in CUPs and CUCs. However, the media report continually
avoided the main questions: Why should a professional work three days to
be able to buy a quart of oil? Until when will a worker need a full
week's wages to be able to buy two pounds of chicken?

Do we live better now because CUPs and CUCs are intermingled in the cash

Right now it takes two working days to be able to acquire a package of
hot dogs, while a tetrapack of milk can only be bought with the fruit of
three days labor. This morning at the market a woman was looking at can
of tomato sauce and seemed to be thinking, "For this I need to sweat
eight hours for half a week."

In a society with such great economic distortions, paper money has lost
the capacity to express the value of merchandise. The illegal market,
the massive inflow of remittances, the diversion of resources and the
invisible capital of one's political standing, completely alter the
valuation of each product. To calculate the cost of living you need to
have at hand equations that include the time and effort required to get
something. How many hours do you have to work to buy a piece of cheese,
a soft drink, bath soap. After how many trips will a bus driver be able
to afford a beer?

It's true that from now on the wallets offered by that artisan are
becoming less necessary. However, the financial distortion we suffer
hasn't diminished with the newly adopted measure. Has something changed
because we can indiscriminately hand the supermarket clerk convertible
pesos or national money? Do we live better now because CUPs and CUCs are
intermingled in the cash registers? The answer is no. A "no" that bears
the watermark of reality and ink of emergency.

Source: Does Being Able to Pay with Either Currency Resolve the Problem?
/ 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez | Translating Cuba -

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