The Odyssey of Withdrawing Money from an ATM in Cuba

The person operating the ATM is looking to see if he has a balance, but it is not to extract for a lack of funds in the machine.

HAVANA TIMES – After being in line since very early to withdraw my mother and my aunt’s pensions, and some money I had on my card, the ATMs ran out of money around 10:00 in the morning. These lines are huge at all hours if they have bills to dispense.

These human masses in waiting share the same fears: connection failure, running out of money, or a power outage. Any of these can happen at any moment.

Comments from others in the line are no less alarming, such as what happened at the bank on Martí Street where, after waiting for the money to be deposited in the ATM, only four people could withdraw money because the deposit was very small.

I then decided to try my luck at other banks with ATMs. I ended up at the one on Maceo Street, in the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood. There was already a small line. Most people arrive, mark their place, and then leave after giving their spot to the last person. I asked if there was a possibility of withdrawing the money from those cards there. They told me there was a possibility, but at that moment there was no power, no money, and no guarantee that the latter would arrive.

“How so?” I asked, alarmed. So many challenges and there was already a line for when all the factors coincided! That’s right, some people responded, encouraging me to stay as well.

A man in his fifties then jumped in, saying that the other day he had waited until five in the afternoon, and the money never arrived. The rest of us shrank in body and soul. But a lady replied, “But it’s almost always sure that they’ll restock it, you just have to be patient.”

Anyone who believes in God should pray, and in Cuba, as a friend once told me, “Who dares not believe in the beyond with the impossibility of the here and now.” With a lot of faith, we stayed from mid-morning until the car with the money arrived around 1:30 p.m. The power was supposed to come back at noon.

Of course, the line, which appeared to have few people, became enormous in a flash. Because between those who were supposed to be there and those who weren’t, pregnant women, physically disabled people, please… what seemed like a hamlet turns into a nation. I managed to withdraw money around 3:00 p.m., congratulating myself because there were people who had been trying to withdraw since the day before. Not to mention those who get (buy) a spot for 300 or 500 pesos to be among the first. Or simply don’t succeed.

The most interesting thing about this experience of withdrawing from an ATM this month is that in Cuba we can now stand in line without knowing if the product will arrive. Showing a hope and faith that some would say is bulletproof, and I would add, beyond the incredible.

Read more from the diary of Lien Estrada here on Havana Times.

Lien Estrada

I am a lover of animals. I am passionate about a good book, a good movie, or a good conversation. I can't help but regret that I don't enjoy studying exact sciences. I am glad to have read Krishnamurti from a very young age. My upbringing is Christian, but I am fascinated by all religions, especially those of the East. The sea is another world that I find captivating.

One thought on “The Odyssey of Withdrawing Money from an ATM in Cuba

  • There is an old scornful saying in Scotland about the incompetent: “He couldn’t run a sweetie shop.” But in Cuba, it is not individuals who are incompetent, it is the whole State run economic system. People are appointed to positions as a consequence of being members or known supporters of the Communist Party of Cuba – an indication in itself of stupidity. Consequently stupidity is as stupid does!

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