Old Tricks, New Tricks

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Hands fly over the table. So fast you can only see the slipstream of the fingers and the brilliance of a golden ring. You can divine — at least the first time — under which container is the small wad of paper. It’s just for you, you’re the prey, the only audience for the spectacle. You’re in that room in a dark tenement to buy a pair of shoes more cheaply than in the stores. But when you get into the maze-like hallway the youngster who suggested those great prices vanishes. So you remain standing there, a few yards from two men who play as if you weren’t there, but at the same time direct their gestures to your eyes. In a few minutes they suggest you bet and you believe you can discover where the slippery little ball is. In less than an hour you will have lost all the capital you had on you.

So far, a succinct narration of one of the most common scams in our country and in the world. A brilliant swindle which, despite its simplicity and repetition, hasn’t stopped working. In Cuba new methods have recently arisen to separate people from their money. There’s everything. One peso bills with crudely drawn zeros to “pass them off” as if they were hundreds. Bags with jeans sold from a doorway, but when you get them home they just contain on old sack of harvested potatoes. Even “boat trips to Florida” that end with the takers eaten by mosquitoes, never with the appearance of a boat. I repeat, there’s everything. Although recently there is a new type of theft that almost always involves a supposed foreigner.

Even the technique is sympathetic, if it weren’t for its effect on the wallet. Someone, with an Argentine or French accent, rents a taxi. He offers the driver an amount of money to hire him for the whole day. With the car in motion the foreigner, upset, begins to talk about all the problems he has with his Cuban wife, while also describing a profitable business he’s setting up on the Island. The itinerary always includes going to a hotel, going by a hospital, picking up some suitcases at the home of some “friend” and even having a beer in a bar. When the driver has already struck up a certain friendship with his client, the latter asks for some money to pay for some transaction, with the excuse that they don’t accept hundred peso bills or all he has is euros. “Lend it to me for a couple minutes and then we’ll go to the bank to change the money and I’ll pay you back.” And the tourist in his hat and flowered shirt gets out of the car. After waiting for more than an hour, the taxi driver begins to get suspicious, but the scammer is already a long way from there.

If the trick with the little ball under a cup appeals to our ego, making us believe that our eyes are faster than the player’s hands, the trick of “the tourist who asks for money” is based on the widespread belief that foreigners “can never be more cunning than we are.” So taking advantage of this false stereotype, the Havana scammers are making a killing. By training their hands, or waiting for their “prey” to enter a dilapidated room looking for a pair of shoes, or deciding whether sounding like Buenos Aires or Quebec will lead to a greater gain. A certain smell of sunscreen, dark glasses, bermuda shorts, and curious looks toward the buildings seen through a taxi window… just that and the scam is on the point of making off with the contents of your pocket.


5 thoughts on “Old Tricks, New Tricks

  1. Civility,

    What am I missing here? The daughter of the Vice-president of Cuba defects to the USA. How does that lay shame on mankind? How does posting that news item here make Humberto guilty of preying on humanity’s misfortune? How is reporting news “the worst crime”?

    Is Senor Murillo’s heart broken that his daughter has left home? Perhaps. So why doesn’t he pop over and visit her? Tamp isn’t that far away. Oh right, the government of Cuba won’t allow him to go. If there are criminals preying on humanity’s misfortune, their name is “Castro”. It is a crying shame they imprison the entire nation of Cuba.

  2. The action’s that you speak of, lay shame on mankind.To prey on humanity’s misfortune, the worst crime.

    @Humberto Capro, Get your own Blog!


    MIAMI HERALD: Aunt says the daughter of Cuba’s vice president defected for love. The daughter of Cuba’s vice president defected because she has a boyfriend in Florida, her family said. – BY JUAN O. TAMAYO

    The tale of the Cuban vice president’s daughter who defected may turn out to be a love story after all. Glenda Murillo went to Tampa to be with her boyfriend and not for political reasons, her aunt declared Tuesday.
    Murillo has a boyfriend in Tampa and left Cuba “for personal and not political reasons,” the aunt, Idania Diaz, told El Nuevo Herald in a polite but brief phone conversation from her home in Tampa.

    What’s more, Murillo is not married, the aunt added, regardless of what El Nuevo was told by the mystery man who answered her cell phone in Havana and claimed to be her husband.

    Murillo’s defection, first reported by El Nuevo Herald on Monday, drew intense news interest because her father is vice president of Cuba’s ruling Council of State and member of the powerful political bureau of the island’s Communist Party.

    Idania Diaz told El Nuevo Herald in a phone conversation that her niece left Cuba and was living with her in Tampa to be with her boyfriend, whom she declined to identify.

    But it was clear that Diaz spoke with the newspaper primarily to ask about the mystery man who identified himself as Murillo’s husband when the newspaper called her cell number in Havana last week to inquire about her case. The man confirmed she was in Tampa, said she would not make any comment and declined to give his name.

    Diaz, who told El Nuevo that Murillo was next to her during the phone chat, confirmed the cell number called by the newspaper belonged to Murillo and added that her niece had arranged to sell the phone before she left to a man she did not know.

    “We don’t know who that might have been, the man who answered,” Diaz added.

    Diaz also noted that Murillo was happy to be in Tampa, but hung up quickly when she was asked about a report that Marino Murillo cried when he learned that his daughter had defected and was in Tampa.

    Her husband, Boris Loynaz, also told a Univision 23 television news crew outside the couple’s home in Tampa that Murillo was happy to be in the United States and declined comment on the report that the father had broken down in tears.



    María del Socorro Tellado López (April 25, 1927, El Franco, Asturias – April 11, 2009), known as Corín Tellado, was a prolific Spanish writer of romantic novels and photonovels that were best-sellers in several Spanish-language countries. She published more than 4,000 novels and sold more than 400-million books which have been translated into several languages. She is listed in the 1994 Guinness World Records as having sold the most books written in Spanish.

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