Although we of course understood the term “cash economy,” the reality of such a system took some time to sink in. One in our group fell for a canvas painted by an art school student. The cost was 400 CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos, pronounced “kooks”; about $400). She was a bit short. No checks, no plastic, no sale — unfortunate for the artist.
Cuba has an interesting two-currency system: pesos for Cubans and the CUCs for everyone else. There is a 13% tax on the exchange of U.S. dollars — a tax that applies only on American dollars. If you visit Cuba and the dollar-to-Euro exchange is favorable, take Euros, or for that matter, Canadian dollars. Money exchange is made in the airport once inside the country. The exchange rate does not vary within the country.
Cuban workers receive a monthly government salary so inadequate most need to find alternative ways to earn. With no tax filing, that’s not a problem. We were told that it would not be unusual for a doctor, for example, to drive a cab in off-hours.
The blending of U.S. and Cuban business ventures may be a tough sell because Cuba, with all its crumbling buildings and food rationing, has something that we in the states do not — no gambling, no drugs, no guns.
In addition to the embargo issues, Raul Castro has also announced he will retire in 2018, which should add come fireworks to the celebration.
As Cubans look forward to the end of the embargo, then, surely it must be with reservations. Before that all happens go if you can find any open tours. Get there before Havana spawns a Little Miami.
Author Bio: Steffany Willey has been published online in Everyday Fiction, Short Fiction Break, Slattery’s Art of Horror Magazine, and The Creativity Webzineand in Birds & Blooms in print.