Two Currencies and Four Markets

He is eight years old and enormously confused.  This morning his mother put 25 centavos in his hand, telling him, “Here are five pesos.”  He looked at the shiny surface with the shield of the Republic on one side and on the back the tall thin tower of the city of Trinidad.  Although born in an economically schizophrenic country, he is still not used to the switch from Cuban pesos to their convertible relatives.  At school the teacher has never talked about the issue, but to explain it would take an entire course over a whole semester.  Nor do they explain much at home, as if the adults think it is normal that they mix two kinds of money in their wallets.

In Cuba there are four kinds of markets and two different types of money to pay for things in them.  Every morning the housewives detail in their heads – with a minimum of fuss – a plan for which currency they will use to buy what, in which places.  It’s an arithmetical operation that takes a few seconds, fifteen years after the implementation of dollarization and its subsequent “ghost,” the convertible peso.  The conversion is done constantly and there are sellers who accept both the symbolic tokens they pay our wages in, and the others with a value 24 times greater.  For a pineapple we can pay as much as 10 pesos in national money – a day’s wages – or about fifty centavos in the money commonly called “chavitos.”  Some tourists are not aware of such complexities and acquire the queen of fruits for ten convertible pesos.  That day, the trader closes his stall quickly and goes home happy for the mistake.

My son’s generation does not understand what it’s like to live with a single currency.  I think they have a special development in the area of the brain that eventually accepts the absurd, in the neural connections that handle the unacceptable.  They perform currency conversions with the ease of someone who has learned two languages since infancy and alternates them with little difficulty.  Except that the learning of several languages is always enriching, but taking for normal the financial duality is to accept that there are two possible lives.  One of them is flat and gray, like the national centavos, and the other – which is forbidden in all its extension to a good part of the population – seems full of colors and watermarks, like the style of the twenty convertible peso bill.

Translator’s Note:

Briefly, Cuba has two currencies.  Moneda nacional (national money or the Cuban peso) is the currency that wages are paid in and some goods are sold in.  The convertible pesos (CUC) is the currency tourists must exchange their dollars, euros, or other currencies for. Many goods are sold, even to Cubans, only in CUCs. One CUC is worth 24 Cuban pesos.  After the Revolution, possession of the U.S. dollar was outlawed in Cuba until 1993, when it was permitted.  The CUC replaced the U.S. dollar in 2004.  The slang name for CUCs, “chavitos,” is a play on Hugo Chavez’s name.


87 thoughts on “Two Currencies and Four Markets

  1. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  2. Better in Bahamas

    That sound also like my family, they now use the GRANMA as its only a few cents, and perfect for the job at hand.

  3. My family in Cuba has no books as they were all used for toilet paper some time ago. I also saw few books stores while in Cuba, other than the little “Che” books at the gift shops. Cuba could use a good book store like we have in North America ie..Barnes and Noble
    I see more reading material at the local grocery store than in my two weeks travel troughout Cuba. Thats a fact.
    My 80 year old grandma’s toilet has no seat. Cuba needs Toilet seat also.

  4. cubano:
    all kdding & bantering aside I respect the strength & commitment of your convictions.
    Lets share some thoughts & learn from each other, I believe in listening, perhaps you can show me the error of my ways; I commit myself to keep an open mind.

    Please explain to me the reasons why you believe the present system works for Cuba since:
    1) the income average is about $20.00 a month
    2) the basic domestic necesities are rationed
    3) the electric power grid is old & in need of repair
    4) the infraestructure is old & in need of repair.
    5) The natural resources: mineral, agricultural & industrial are not fully capable of supporting the national budget.
    6) Most of Cuba’s potential investors consider are aware of the “non payment thru legislation policies” (high credit risk).
    I think this 6 are a good start; notice I ask specifics and I hope you are capable & willing to answer with self critical judgement, with adherance to the truth & with the deserving pride of your revolutionary attitude.

  5. Hank

    I understand and respect your need to constructively engage, that is your choice. I do not choose to do so, it is mostly a waist of time and energy. Most importantly I believe that when you engage these people with their absurd, cynical and obsolete arguments you impart credibility. You are saying I believe your argument is valid and a response is merited. Is it responsible to give intellectual or moral equivilancy to these arguments/comments? Is it responsible to give the uninformed fence sitters the impression that these are credible ideas? Or is it more appropriate to point these arguments out for what they are? Some in here are operating under the premise that we are still fighting a battle of ideas. That battle has been fought and lost by the other side. Communism, totalitarianism ,fidelismo are bankrupt, defeated ideas. I have no patience or tolerance for those that wish to expouse cynical lies, misinformation or who defend the killers and abusers. I gladly yield to your sense of fair play even though I believe is it misplaced when dealing with the cubano and 291rcr’s of the world.

  6. Hank @#81.
    I happen to agree w/you, perhaps from a slightly different point of view.
    There is “body language” & other qualifications (at least I think) …
    The spelling, the topics, the pattern of expressions, the timing.
    If one pays attention … for the sport of it of course, as I am sure someone does in their side of the isle …
    However here is where I think we agree … if while bantering or talking seriously with this ot these individuals … we may be able (maybe?) to touch something, to stirr a memory, inspire a change …
    But, if I am wrong in believing in the posibility … chuck it up to my simpleton’s thought …

  7. Yubano,

    I am very glad to see you here again. Your point is well taken and well expressed. I agree with virtually everything you say.

    My only disagreement with you is this — I think it is important to engage people with whom we disagree in order to bring them out and see how they think, so that they may be exposed. If we were all to sit around agreeing with each other — this would be a pretty boring site. As I see it, the best way to confront irrationality and beat it down is to confront it with rationality.

    I engage the Castro sympathizers to expose them for what they are, that’s all. It may be a pointless exercise in the short term — but in the long run, I think it matters.

    When I do this, I do not expect rational discourse from them. I ask specific questions that are rarely answered. It is an exercise for me in trying to understand how the indefensible can be defended, which I readily admit is a weakness of mine — the desire to understand the defense of something that cannot be defended. I want to know why — not how, or when, or where. What I want to know is why.

    The last point I will make on this topic is that this is a written forum. There is no body language here, no charisma, and no personal beauty on display. It is all about ideas and how well you can express those ideas in order to convince people. So I find it very revealing that under the scrutiny of just a little bit of light, their house of cards falls at once, without much effort – just the slightest touch and it all comes crumbling down.

  8. What is the point in excercising “open-mindedness” ?

    It is simple because then we are exposing them for what they are. If they are not able to keep a rational discourse then to any other rational person out there reading will understand where reason is.

    It is not about us imposing our way of thinking is about keeping your mind open to anything, even more to those opinions totally contrary to what you think. The real proof of your believe comes when you are able to argue reasonably well what you believe in and to stand corrected when you are in error. That is how we humans learn.

    We could seat all they long typing

    the moon is blue

    But to many the immense majority the moon is shiny white.

    We may not be able to convince this minority that the moon is not blue but at least we where able to argue why we think is white. Doing so is a good exercise that helps us understand better why the moon is white.

    By doing so we maybe teaching many others and at the same time learning from others from their opinions and points of view.

    In this dialectic is where we humans prosper and learn from each other.
    Now if we do the opposite lets say.

    The moon is white and end of discussion

    then that is a problem what if it is really blue? and we have all been deceive?

    This is exactly the predicament they are in Cuba. They have been instructed the moon is blue and period. They can not question their own believes. Doing so is to be a traitor.

    So that is why it is so important to go thru this arguments. That is dialectics.

  9. Yubano

    I find it humorous and sometimes admirable that you “decent” sorts in here find it necessary to respond to or try to set straight every ignoramous that spouts pro-castro or anti-US nonsense. After 51 years of failed government, political executions,unjust jailings, failure to respect even the most fundamental human rights, and unyeilding repression, it is part of the public record what the castro regime has perpetrated on it’s own people. Those that hold these opinions are victims of political indoctrination, cynical proponents of the regime or left wing ideologues blinded by rabid anti-americanism. What is the point in excercising “open-mindedness” with people who are not interested in seeing the light. They defend the indefensible and the only thing they succeed in doing (deliberatley in most cases) is to provoke these frustrated attempts at rational discourse. They deserve nothing better than to be ignored and/or scorned. The are a few of you in here that will never agree of course because you like the sound of your own “voices” to much. I will gladly play the role of “scorner” whenever I’m so inclined…

    REUTERS: Venezuela opposition decries appointment of Cuban

    CARACAS (Reuters) – President Hugo Chavez’s naming of a heavyweight Cuban official to help fix Venezuela’s electricity crisis has fired up his opponents at a politically volatile time for the South American nation.

    “Power rationing since late 2009 has emerged as a major problem for the OPEC member nation of nearly 29 million people, threatening its ability to pull out of recession and weighing on Chavez’s popularity ahead of a September legislative poll.

    After days of protests last week in which two students died, thousands of government and opposition supporters again rallied on Thursday, the 18th anniversary of a failed coup by Chavez that launched his political career.

    “Keep trying to topple our revolutionary government with your white hands,” Chavez said in reference to students who paint their hands white in marches against the government.

    “If you challenge us with arms, we are ready with Bolivar’s sword,” he said, wearing an army uniform and brandishing South American independence fighter Simon Bolivar’s sword at a rally in a military base. Some of his supporters waved a Cuban flag.

    The controversial Venezuelan leader said this week that Cuban Vice-President Ramiro Valdes, who has been a close ally of Fidel Castro dating back to his 1959 revolution, would head a committee to tackle Venezuela’s power shortages.”


    “Police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of students who tried marching to the National Assembly in Caracas, where they hoped to deliver a proposal to tackle the energy crisis.

    “We came to demonstrate and tell the national government that today is not a day of celebration. … There are many problems and the government is not attending to them,” student leader Roderick Navarro said.

    The appointment of 77-year-old Valdes, who is also Cuba’s information and communications minister, to an electricity committee has incensed Chavez foes. They have long decried the “Cubanization” of Venezuela, accusing the president of ruining their country by trying to copy Castro’s communism.”

  11. 291rcr
    I like to see the day when in Cuba we can do something like this

    This is hosted on servers here in the US.
    Imagine we would be able to publish right from a server in Cuba and been critical of the regime without been shut down!

    As you know Yoani’s site is only active because is hosted in some other country. But as you know the regime actively filters information Cubans are allow to see.
    Yoani’s site is not the only one on that list prohibited for most Cubans.

    Maybe Alarcon, Raul, Fidel Castro read what we write. Maybe a few more can. But the immense majority can not. Even if they did not filtered it they would not be able to read it because to them is too much money to pay.

    Still they refuse to let that minority that can afford the internet to see what we write.


  12. Again 291rcr

    We do not have the choice of exactly finding out how many Cubans are those you mentioned here as a “large number”

    “I am sure that a large number of your fellow Cuban brothers are very satisfied with what they have. “

    from my personal experience this large number you talked about is not very large. In a free election they will loose easily. If it was as large as you think it is then there is no real reason for them to not be allow to have other information even information contrary to what the regime gives them. Or to be able to read those prohibited books. Or to be able to enter or exit your own country without a nod from the regime.

    If this opposition to the regime is so small then why not let it be shown on a fair election?

    The closest thing to this is polls and I believe polls have been conducted in Cuba and the regime will loose hands down. It will loose simply because is unable to deliver on promises. I will even say it got nothing to do with ideology. After all ideologies are like religion is a basic act of faith.
    Either you believe in Marxism or you don’t.

    On the other hand we can see the consequences of going on that path. I am not going to repeat the long list of problems they have and that I am sure you are aware already.

    If it was not them (The Castros) I am talking about some other democratic government that was unable to guaranty for example something basic like milk for children.

    Why can we not vote them out and replace them for some other government that can solve these problems maybe with different solutions?

    Even if those solutions mean changing the economical system?

    What is fundamentally wrong with the Cuban regime is they are stuck in this idea that capitalism is bad and that freedom is also bad.

    My argument is that that is very convenient position to be in for the regime ruling class since they will not listen to critics and they do not have to answer to anyone but themselves. That is not good for the Cuban people. We know the consequences.
    Hospitals that don’t work. 26 people die recently in a hospital.

    I am sure if we have open access to the information we will find much more.
    But they hide and cover everything so the only reason I would think would motivate them to do such thing is to hide their own inabilities and to cover up their problems as to appear better.

    But the truth is they are not. Even the few supporters they have brain washed will swap sides if they knew all the information.

    Only those that are using the regime to benefit themselves economically or otherwise would still support them.

  13. 291rcr

    I read again your statements in #70 if I understand correctly what you said is that you can not write things you like to write here because you think big brother is watching?
    Is my interpretation of what you wrote correct?

  14. 291rcr
    Please point to me where I am not open mind?

    did you read all my statements?

    “So you think that because the NSA will have access to this information in some way it may coerce people to not speak freely?

    I think you may have a valid point there 291rcr.”

    “but when one response in a defensive manner why should I.”

    if you make an statement you need to be able to back it up with facts.
    Most of the statement I make I am able to back them up.

    “I am sure that a large number of your fellow Cuban brothers are very satisfied with what they have.”

    20 years ago I remember an even larger number of Cubans who were denied their right to change what they have. I am very sure that many of this whom you believe to be in accord with the regime will also swap side as soon as freedom is declare.

    So let me see if I understand your argument.

    How would big brother watching will affect a dialog with Cuba?

    291rcr I am not attacking you either I am trying hard to understand your point.

    Can you explain to me what is the weakness ramped in this blog?

  15. Julio: your response was as expected not from an opened mind but very defensive! That is why I sit and only respond occasionally . I have no problem with an open forum and debate but when one response in a defensive manner why should I. Maybe for your peace when it comes to analyzing your home land look at the other half of the glass that is have full. Just like the Empire which you are prepared to live in and defend I am sure that a large number of your fellow Cuban brothers are very satisfied with what they have. Yes and I agree there is methods available to you and me to secure our dialogue, but as in Cuba and I believe in the Empire big brother is watching.
    Julio do not get me wrong I am not attacking you only pointing out what I believe is a weakness that is ramped in this blog.

  16. soy más cubano que usted es. formo parte de la familia de castro
    viva fidel viva cuba abayo los yankees. ps: tengo un desorden mental. cómpreme por favor prozac

    i am more cuban than you are. i am part of the Castro family. long live fidel, long live cuba down with americans. ps: i have a mental disorder.please buy me prozac

  17. Now you see here we as citizens have the right to complain when we think the government is been oppressive and is restricting our freedoms
    Example ACLU
    I know for fact there is nothing no safeguard for any citizen in Cuba against the regime. Cuba does not have anything equivalent to the ACLU.

  18. cubano havana cuba

    one suggestion

    abayo is not spanish you probably meant to say

    It is clear that you are not Cuban and also that you may not even speak Spanish so why do you pretend to be what you are not?

    We are willing to listen to you even if you are not Cuban. Many of the people commenting here are not Cuban.Write back if you have something to say other than the short repetitive statements you write.

  19. I check the news from Google on the Washington post

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Internet search firm Google is finalizing a deal that would let the National Security Agency help it investigate a corporate espionage attack that may have originated in China, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

    The aim of the investigation is to better defend Google, the world’s largest Internet search company, and its users from future attacks, the Post said, citing anonymous sources with knowledge of the arrangement.

    Is this the fragment you are probably concern about?

    “The sources said Google’s alliance with the NSA, the world’s most powerful electronic surveillance organization, would be aimed at letting the two sides share critical information without violating Google’s policies or laws that protect the privacy of online communications.

    Under the arrangement, the NSA would not be viewing user searches or e-mail accounts, the sources said. Google also would not be sharing proprietary data with the NSA, they said. ”

    So you think that because the NSA will have access to this information in some way it may coerce people to not speak freely?

    I think you may have a valid point there 291rcr.

    On the other hand. You can still use cryptography it is perfectly legal for you to encrypt messages in the US and in the world. Companies do this all the time. For example to transfer or exchange financial information on the internet is done thru public key crypto. So…

    Are you free to send messages or not?

  20. Cubano, these american gringos are so ruthless that they do not want to track down your IP number to see if you are typing from a dirty basement in Havana or from a shiny condo in Miami. On the other side any Cuban saying/writing negative things about the Castro & Comp. will be hunted down and brainwashed.

  21. 291rcr

    I am sorry 291rcr but please write correct information.
    It was Cubano who started the talk about having no freedom on the “empire”.
    We are asking him to substantiate his statements and them he comes up with “it is too long to explained”. Come on get real. That is no a valid argument. If you want people to listen you need to do better than that. You need to be able to argue reasonably well your opinions. Other wise they are just random statements.
    Like me saying
    – The moon is blue.
    You -Can you prove it?

    Me – my argument is too long but the moon is blue.

    Do you understand my point?

    You all seem to ignore questions and hide when press to supply arguments, Why?
    Is it because you do not have them?

    Can you be more illuminating 291rcr?

    Explain to me why I am not free. Why you are not free?

    As to the policies of George Bush I have said before that we fail when we speak one thing and do other. It’s the same that have happen to the regime in this 50 years.
    They talk the talk but they do not walk the walk.
    The same is is not true of the Obama Administration.

  22. If nothing else:
    in this medium, as well as just about anywhere what is said is respected by most.
    The ideas are listened to, not stifled; discussed & if there is a disagreement, there is no dire consequences to it, no sanctions or restrictions real or fabricated.
    Respect & tolerance are for the most part the norm …
    Ist that the same at home?

  23. Cubano: a breath of fresh air. Julio and the rest once again you opened the door comparing the Empire and their freedom. Two article in today’s news, Washington Post Google to enlist NSA (National Security Agency) and CNN “parents and DNA”, I am sure you will all want to read and just one of the daily contributors will see what really is the truth, or as usual continue to drive on your dead end street.
    While I am writing can any of the usual contributor explain GWB’s expanding the monitoring of private citizens phones and emails.

  24. Cubano:
    It is very easy to prove your points about anything by picking into an endless list of small topics.
    It is just as easy for some people if they feel threatened in any way.
    Maybe by trying be to “open up” one can take the risk & really listen & perhaps want to understand the things that contradict any belief of presents a threat.
    But it takes courage to accept even the possibility of being wrong & admit every it,
    let alone accept it & learn from it.
    To be able to do so, one MUST be free to CHOOSE & be FREE to ACCEPT (if need be)& exercise the results of our discoveries.
    In a free society we are in an social contract:
    we agree to disagree & we agree to a general set of rules to form a constantly evolving & improving society.
    The basic premise to make it work is:
    “my rights end where other’s rights begin”.
    This leaves room for a consensus, leaves room for a free & vigorous debate when needed.
    In the situation you live in, that is not what you have, is what you are given.
    Can you see the difference?

  25. So Cubano your whole notion about not been free in America is because of this?

    “can you make an statement about what you think in America and really be heard?…come on..get real..”


    That is not really about freedom is it? That is more about communication. The fact is with the internet potentially any American even more any citizen of the world (Except for Cubans) can read what you write here!

    As you know the Cuban regime finds very inconvenient that Cubans will read Yoani even if as we know very few are able to access the internet because they will have to pay a month wages for one hour of access but still the regime finds very damaging the critical statements here. I will dare say they really have no answer for the critical statements here. The ones that Yoani or any one else writes over here. If they did they will have defended themselves instead of literally attacking the person physically. Any time such thing happen its very obvious that they have no answers not because she is wrong. They know she is right!

    Is beyond me why can they seat on TV and admit problems like everyone else does.
    Just please go thru the list of things that Yoani have

    So you see if you have something interesting to say people will listen to you, if you have something important to say they will listen. There is many people that write blogs on the web and have large audiences one example I could give you is close by :-) (Yoani)

  26. Andy,

    Thank you for the book recommendation. I have heard about the Over Sea Under Stone series but have never read it. Will get it on my Kindle!

  27. Albert Re: # 4 ( I apologise for not answering sooner ) What i seen in the mass Population In Cuba was “”Desperation”” From the mother in Havana who asked me for $1 dollar to feed her child,to the man who tried to sell me counterfit cigars ( to probally feed his family ) to the resort worker in Varadero who tried to sell me coffee or rum that was obviously stolen from the resort i was at, this is what i saw…No one staving but very hungry for all things i as a Canadian take for granted..Peace I am very Grateful to be free….

  28. Julio,

    Thank you for your straightforward answer to my question. I am genuinely curious about these things.

    Thanks also for asking the question of Cubano that I meant to ask. Namely, what specific freedoms do you lack which you are unable to excercise? I really would like to know. Please educate me, I am willing to listen. I’ll point out that no society is totally free, if it were, there would be chaos. For example, we all agree to stop at red lights, we agree not to shoot each other, we agree to limit our freedom of speech in certain circumstances. There are many limits that we impose on ourselves, for the common good.

  29. Cubano is partially right,

    I said partially right because yes many of the classics you are able to read them but he forgot to mentioned if you can find them.

    See, the way communist misinformation work? Half truth!

    Now with regards to Animal Farm or 1984 of Orwell you can not find them anywhere and the same with many other books for example any book critical of the system the sponsor. Think for example why do they go thru the trouble of interfering radio signals or TV signals? They like to have total absolute control over the information people get.

    Cubano, in 50 years of revolution have they sold Animal Farm in Cuba or is it available for checking out at many of the local libraries?

    Hank, the answer he is refusing to give you is NO is not available. I am not sure where the whole list resides or the exact books on it. I just know that those two are prohibited because I could never find them anywhere. Not a library nor even a book store.

    For those books they may said for example that they do not have paper or ink to publish them or simply that they are enemy propaganda. On the other hand the tyrant do make an effort and find paper to published books by Fidel Castro or Che or communist propaganda but they can not find paper for anything else other than that.

  30. cubano @ 49,
    Castro is killing its victims ( the entire Cuban nation ) by starvation. While America is not perfect at all, Americanos enjoy their freedom to do whatever they want to do ( unless they are stupid enough to sign a contract with the Army ) . You’ll say that they need money to do whatever they want to do, but you actually need money everywhere in the world. And if I mentioned money I want to ask you a simple question ? As a cubano aren’t you ashamed that due to hunger thousands of cubano young girls, some with small children are selling themselves for a few chavitos to the old sleazy tourists? I bet not as you and your comrades are taking a cut from those chavitos.

    Viva la Revolution ( Not the one from ’59 but the one that will come and send you and your comrades to hell)

  31. @#24
    Gringo Marty
    I’ll thank you for your kindness & applaud your courage.
    I thank you for answering my simple question.
    My curiosity (from my heart) needs to know, not about the complicated economic situation or the political struggles (way over my head) I need to know the sentiments, the ground noise of the people, about their life, their struggles, the “feel of the street”
    I think at times we forget our humanity while chasing answers (important perhaps) on hotel names, monetary values, food rations & health services etc.
    I personally like to take a break, step back & “look” around me.
    Atempt even from the distance to smell the street, the food, enjoy the colours, listen to what the people is saying … their mundane concerns.
    Perhaps I sound like strange …
    I just miss those things; even if I have something like it in the world I live … it is not the same …
    So, thank you all for that little break, for sharing the stories about the people IN the hospitals, for sharing the kindness of the cuban & the kindness of the gringo, thank you for proving our humanity
    Viva Cuba!!

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