Where Did the Cents Go?

Daisy Valera

The shortage of cent coins adds up against Cuban workers.

In Cuba there exist two currencies: the regular Cuban peso and the CUC (convertible peso).

The latter one has appropriated the leading role and makes it seem like the national peso is a valueless currency, one that’s practically useless.

But though it might seem this way, it isn’t completely true.  It can’t be when the wages of most Cuban workers are paid in pesos, not in CUCs.

The coin with the least value is what could be called the Cuban nickel (0.05 pesos or 5 cents, which are called “centavos”).

After this we have coins for 20 cents and those of 1 and 3 pesos.

Several years ago, a shortage of coins of lesser value began to be noticed (those of 5 and 20 cents), though initially this didn’t seem to cause too many problems because the most important purchases for citizens have are made in CUCs.

However, there are certain activities that require the use of the Cuban peso; among these are paying for transportation, buying medicine, using telephones and public bathrooms, and even buying the morning newspaper.

Public buses cost 40 cents, public restrooms 20 cents and the most important dailies (such as Granma, Juventud Rebelde and the weekly Trabajadores) also go for 20 cents.

But what happens when there isn’t any change, and the smallest coin one can find is the peso?

It’s simple: the cost of bus fare increases to more than double its price, and using a public restroom becomes exasperating when you have to pay five times what it should cost.

Instead of buying one newspaper, you’re compelled to buy two, since the newsstands never have change and you still lose 60 cents.

What’s more, a phone call that should cost 5 cents ends up being 20 times that amount since you have to pay a peso given the almost impossible task of finding a 5 cent coin.

When we do the numbers, we find that —due to the general disappearance of change— if a worker has to pay minimum two pesos to get to and from their place of work, this employee will wind up spending about 44 pesos in bus fare when they should really have only spent a little more than 17 pesos.

If one considers the fact that the average Cuban wage is around 400 pesos, this means that workers are handing over around 11 percent of their income for daily transportation alone.

We could calculate all of the other activities for which coins are needed and the conclusions would be the same: workers whose wages are insufficient to buy necessities as basic as food and toiletries lose a considerable portion of their income every month because of this problem.

I don’t know what the institution that should be responsible for this situation is doing; it seems that in the last several years they haven’t done anything.

It’s enough to make you think that someone is going around hoarding all of the nation’s change.

I’ll simply limit myself to calling on those who are responsible to have more respect for us working people, who are already far from being able to enjoy an adequate quality of life, and I’ll also call on my fellow workers to stop letting ourselves be victims of these daily abuses.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

One thought on “Where Did the Cents Go?

  • October 9, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    That paying for the public washrooms really threw me for a loop when I was in Havana in February. This was something I’d never seen anywhere before (there is no such thing in Canada), so I automatically assumed that the person asking for the money was pulling a scam, and I walked right past her. It wasn’t until I’d been doing this for a couple of days that someone pointed out to me that really was that person’s job!

Comments are closed.