Every night in the cabaret of a luxury hotel a European businessman goes from table to table making an unusual request. He approaches the guests and asks that when their bill comes, they let him pay it with the colored vouchers that he has in his pocket. In exchange, they will give him the amount in convertible pesos, which he can then turn into dollars or Euros which he can take far away. This man is a victim of the financial “Corralito” that prevents many foreign investors from taking their earnings out of the country. So that they don’t utterly despair, the Cuban authorities allow them to consume the length and breadth of the Island, paying with pieces of paper lacking any real worth.
Today the frozen funds drama touches many businessmen who, after the 1995 passage of the Foreign Investment Law, were ready to invest in our economy. They enjoyed the privilege of running a company, completely forbidden to those of us born here. They came to be a new business class in a country where the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 had confiscated even the chairs of the shoeshine boys. The huge profits they were managing to extract turned them into very attractive targets for the hustlers, rental house landlords, and members of State Security. Many of them were seen in the most expensive restaurants, choosing appetizing dishes while accompanied by very young women. Others, the minority, gave additional gifts to their employees to compensate them for their low salaries in Cuban pesos paid by the State, through which the foreign companies contracted for their labor.
These representatives of a “corporate scouting party” were prepared to lose a little capital provided they could—starting now—be established in a place that one day would be like a pie cut into slices. However, those on the Island who signed contracts and drank the champagne with them, after an agreement, considered them just a necessary and provisional evil, a diversion that would be eradicated as soon as the Special Period ended. After all the guarantees promised a few months ago, they have learned that the coffers are empty, while hearing the repeated, “we cannot pay you.” Suddenly, these businessmen have begun to feel the impotence and the scream—half stuck in the throat—that we Cubans are burdened with every day. Still, they are so much less unprotected than we are, against the depredation of the State; a passport from another place allows them to get on a plane and forget everything.
Translator’s note: El Corralito was the common name given to the Argentine government’s freezing of bank accounts, and most strictly U.S. dollar deposits, between December 2001 and December 2002, when the nation was in a financial crisis. The word comes from the word “corral” which has the same meaning in Spanish and English.