The Return of the Loanshark

Line outside a Metropolitan Bank in Havana

They don’t have their own places, but they flourish everywhere. They lend money at interest, facilitate loans, and charge the same in cash as in goods and services. They are the new moneylenders. After being stigmatized for decades, these banned bankers have returned without licenses or pity. They offer everything from small amounts to thousands of convertible pesos, although the latter is only for very reliable clients. They operate in areas they know well; they know how much their neighbors make in wages, whether they receive remittances from overseas, or if they have some other source of income. Starting with this information, they distinguish between those who will be “good for it” and those who won’t. Although there can always be surprises. The great nightmare of these “usury experts” lies in the customers’ intentions to board a boat and be smuggled out of the country, without returning to them what is theirs.

Other situations can be resolved with pressure and threats. When a debtor is overdue in his payments, the lender feels that the time has come to teach him a lesson.

Edward was watching television last Saturday when they knocked on his door. Two burly men pushed past him into the house and one of them hit him in the face with his fists. They took the stereo and left, but not before warning him, “You have 72 hours to pay back El Primo… if you don’t, we’ll be back and we won’t behave so nicely.” The victim could not go to the police, because, from the beginning, he preferred illicit credit, without possible complications. He spent the next three days selling some of his home appliances and going into debt to friends so that he could repay the loan. He also prayed a little that El Primo and his henchmen might be raided for the great number of crimes they commit.

María, however, obtained a loan of 10 thousand pesos from the Metropolitan Bank. She needed to fill out endless forms and present written evidence of her employment. She planned to use the money for construction materials to remodel her old house. She felt satisfied to have gotten the sum legally, although now any paperwork she fills out includes the information that she is in debt to the State. Others, who could not meet the requirements, had to accept the conditions and interest rates of their neighborhood moneylender. More than one client has had to pay with favors from her own body when the repayment date has come and gone; more than one family has had to deliver a refrigerator or a car, because an irresponsible member thought to ask for money they could never repay.

As necessary as he is slandered, the moneylender is just one link in the illegal financial chain of our reality. Cautious when giving, implacable when collecting.

11 thoughts on “The Return of the Loanshark

  1. . A team of experts of the U.N. Security Council arrived in Panama to examine the weapons and live ammunition carried by the North Korean ship. After their inspection they will write a report with regard to the violation of the U.N. ban on arms transfers to North Korea due to its nuclear weapons and missile development programs.

  2. Pingback: Reports from Cuba: The Return of the Loanshark | Babalú Blog

  3. Thanks for pointing to the legal aspect loan sharking, Nick

    There are loan sharks and there is loan cancer: the banks. Thousands of people were kicked out from thieir dwellings on the streets in the recent years, Spain being probably the best example.

    Cuban government is too soft on crime, this is a mistake.

  4. This is a sign that the many aspects of capitalism are creeping back into Cuba, both the good and the bad. Usury is definitely one of the worst byproducts of a system where whole countries’ economies are based on debt. If Cuba ever allows corporate banking (as Nick mentions, “legitimate” loan sharks) into the country, that would be a very dangerous step to take and one that cannot be reversed. Hopefully they can rein these low-lifes in.

  5. Illegal loan sharks are an obnoxious form of parasite.
    They operate in Cuba, They operate everywhere.
    I would say with confidence that those that operate here in the UK are far more ruthless than those in Cuba.
    Cuba is unfortunate to have this problem.
    Cuba is lucky not to have the problem of legal and legitimate loan sharks which we have here.
    Their usury rates are extortionate, they cause misery wherever they show up and its a booming industry in the current economic climate caused by the non-democratic and failing neo liberalist economic system.
    Its bad and its legal.
    Cuba’s unlucky to have illegal loan sharks, but lucky not to have this legalised blight.

  6. Panamanian inspectors, using explosive-sniffing dogs, found rocket-propelled grenade explosive when they opened one of five containers on the North Korean ship, and equipment for launching missiles when they opened the last container.

  7. Panama ending search of N Korean ship from Cuba

    The Associated Press

    PANAMA CITY — Panamanian officials say they’re ending their search of a North Korean ship that was detained as it carried weapons from Cuba.

    Public Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino tells The Associated Press that Panama removed the ship’s last unopened container, which was buried under sacks of sugar, and found it held equipment for launching missiles.

    Panama has unloaded and searched 25 containers, finding a variety of weapons systems and parts. Cuba says it was not violating sanctions meant to halt sophisticated arms sales to North Korea because the ship contained obsolete weapons being sent back for repair.

    But some of the containers were loaded with undeclared live munitions, and United Nations experts will be in Panama in the coming days to prepare a report on whether the shipment violated sanctions.

  8. THE MIAMI HERALD: Miami group says Bahamas planned to return detainees to Cuba – by Juan O. Tamayo

    The Bahamas government Thursday started — then stopped — the repatriation of 24 undocumented Cuban migrants, including eight who have been offered asylum in Panama, according to a Miami group that has been supporting the Cubans.

    The 24 were told early Thursday that they were being returned to Cuba, handcuffed and put on buses at the Migrant Detention Center in Nassau, said Democracy Movement chief Ramón Saúl Sanchez, who on Monday called off a hunger strike in favor of the migrants.

    “We immediately contacted the U.S. and Panamanian government and others and just 15 minutes ago we learned the repatriation had been stopped and that the people are back in the center’s dining room,” he told El Nuevo Herald Thursday afternoon.

    “At least we stopped the repatriation for now, although we retain the option of renewing the hunger strike,” Sánchez said.

    But Sanchez said late Thursday that his group has been told the detainees will be repatriated on Friday.

    The Cubans’ status was scheduled be discussed Monday at a meeting of Bahamas Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell, Guillermo Cochez, former Panama ambassador to the Organization of American States, Miami lawyer Lorenzo Palomares and Miami banker Raymond Molina.

    Bahamian authorities are holding 50 undocumented Cubans at the migration center, some for as long as 11 months. Most were intercepted as they tried to make their way to the United States. At least three already lived in the United States and were suspected of people smuggling.

    Several have staged strident protests against conditions at the detention center and the possibility of repatriations. At least four sewed their lips together and several filmed a cell-phone video last month allegedly showing a center guard kicking at the detainees. Mitchell has said the video is fake.

    Eight of the Cubans involved in the video were among the 24 put on the buses, and Democracy Movement activists said they suspected that the attempted repatriation to Cuba was “an action deceitful and intended to hide the torture of human beings.”

    The 19 offered asylum by Panama were “the most abused” at the center, Sanchez said.\



    Statement By Cong. Ros-Lehtinen On The Terrible Ordeal Of Cuban Freedom Seekers Being Repatriated By Bahamian Authorities – Aug 15, 2013 Issues: Foreign Affairs

    Miami, Florida – Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) issued the following statement regarding the ongoing and appalling situation of Cubans detained in The Bahamas and being repatriated back to the Castro dictatorship.

    Ros-Lehtinen’s statement:

    “Members of my staff and have been coordinating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) personnel who are on the ground in Nassau. The UNHCR officials inform us that the Cubans who are being repatriated may not be the same one who have been offered asylum in Panama. The Bahamian government has finally acknowledged that the beatings that were caught on video occurred and we hope that the new security cameras, as well as the removal of these abusive guards, will have some positive impact on the lives of these freedom seeking Cubans. It is shameful that because the Bahamian government rejected their refugee status, the State Department policy states that the US cannot take them in after proper vetting.

    I will continue to monitor this sad situation and I will continue to press the Bahamian government that it must cease the deplorable detainment conditions under which Cubans are not fed adequately nor treated humanely; it must honor the generous asylum protections offered by third countries, such as Panama; and it must coordinate with US officials and the UNHCR so that the present conditions of a lack of information ceases.”

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