The huge walls of the City of Havana began construction almost 500 years ago, those thick walls soaks up the Caribbean Sun while the narrow passageways create a cool shaded walkway which makes life much more comfortable escaping the tropical heat. Within that maze of walls, plazas, all of its inhabitants have developed a strategy to survive. Everyone gets a taste, but if you snooze you lose, you have to be ready. There is the Cuban economy or marketplace and the Cuban Black Market both work together to provide all the goods Cubans require but (during the present special period: the recession) supply is limited and long absences are frequent, like light bulbs, just because you have the lamp, the electricity, doesn’t get you light without the bulb. The U.S. 50 year Embargo on CUBA has placed real hardships on the people of CUBA, but the Cubans don’t hate us, they don’t feel sorry for themselves, they laugh at their plight and look to President Obama with great anticipation but dare not hope. They have been disappointed before and have learned to live with the realities of their country. CUBA just laid off another 500,000 jobs forcing yet another half million people to develop new strategies to survive. The average Cuban lives off $20 a month, In the October issue of Harper’s Magazine contributor Patrick Symmes has a story entitled Thirty Days as a Cuban: where he pinches pesos and drops weight trying to survive like the average Cuban, he barely lives to see his flight home.
Meanwhile real Cubans scam tourists for pesos, smuggle rum or cigars, run illegal taxi’s, or beg in the streets. Talents like drawing, turns into quick tourists sketches signed by the artist, colorfully dressed Cuban women swarm foreigners to be photographed and then charge $5 pesos or CUC. Cubans with huge cigars, grab tourists in the plaza for a photo, then charge a peso for their image, nearby a local band performs with cigar box open for donations. As you walks the streets of Havana, folks constantly ask where you’re from and each has his own come-on which begins as soon as you answer. Elsewhere, pirated CDs and DVDs, are sold on the streets and large crowds appear to shop and buy. My favorite of them all, were the three dachshund puppies, from left Canela, 6, the mom, Azuear age 3, the baby and Cachito age 8, the dad. They simply sat there all dressed up and when cued by their owner, psssttt…he says and the puppies stand up and stare straight into the lens and have their picture taken and then go back to at ease. Our Cuban tour guide says “the government pretends to pay us and we pretend to work” One small elevator, had a women in a chair, sitting inside and pushing the up and down button for pesos tips. Frequently folks young and old will approach, rub their belly and hold out their hand. Our tour guide suggested you might give these folks, your small coins, the centavos which bring us to the Cuban Pesos and how there are special stores where that currency is exchanged, and others, for cuc$ is where tourists shop. Locals can go to the movies for 80 cents, but tourists can’t. The Presidente Hotel, probably a 3-4 star stay, charges $85 a night, the tour was charged $65 a night for the same room and breakfast. Living with families in Havana, breakfast is often included and two people can share a room for $25 or less a night. Likewise many homes are open as restaurants and bars where frequently the woman of the house is the owner/operator and her children, waiters and kitchen help. This entrepreneurial spirit is what Cuba hopes will spring from the layoffs and more home licenses are expected as the renovation of the old buildings of Havana continues. In Cuba, you are given a place to live. If you need a bigger home, you find someone who wants to swap and if their home is bigger or better, then you pass some cash under the table and everyone is happy. One local writer’s poem explores the return to a previous home and how the hummingbird plate of many years ago still lived in that space and still held so many memories for her. I was standing on a street corner and when a fella and his #3girlfriend stopped on their way to hear Amereto Fernandes, once a staple at the Buena Vista Social Club and stayed to chat and invited me along, when we arrived down the street at a local bar, this fella and his girl felt I should buy them both a drink, Amereto was glad to pose for photos, if I bought his CD and of course, the Bar was happy with me taking photos as long as I too, had a drink. Total around $25…happened so fast never saw it coming and that is how it is done.Cick on next photo for Havana slideshow)
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF THE CUBAN PESOS ? WHICH PESO ? THE PESOS USED BY THE LOCALS OR THE ONE USED BY THE TOURISTS ? Visiters to Cuba buy kuks, which trades even with the Canadian dollar but stands above the US Dollar, $1.20 to $1, so walking thru customs costs the US visitor an extra 20% which goes straight to Fidel, and then there’s the state’s Health Insurance which is factored into the cost of the Tour, about $400 for the week. The convertible peso ( CUC$), is one of two official currencies in Cuba, the other being the peso. It has been in limited use since 1994, when it was treated as equivalent to the U.S. dollar. In 2004, the U.S. dollar ceased to be accepted in Cuban retail outlets leaving the convertible peso as the only currency in circulation in many Cuban businesses. Officially exchangeable only within the country, its value is currently pegged to $1.08 U.S.  The convertible peso is, by the pegged rate, the tenth-highest-valued currency unit in the world and the highest valued “peso” unit. U.S. Credit Cards are not acceptable in CUBA since there are no U.S. Banks there.