Servility in Cuba to Foreign Currency

Dariela Aquique

Santiago de Cuba. Photo: Janis Hernandez

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 17 — How ironic it is for them to go around proclaiming here in Cuba: “Striving to achieve excellence in food service and customer attention!”

This, among many others, is one of the inventions you have to listen to daily in the iniquitous marketing attempts by our media to feign the friendly treatment and quality that people deserve.

In the heart of Santiago de Cuba, at the busy corner of Aguilera and Calvary, is the La Isabelica café. Many people go there given its centric location, and it was there where I witnessed something that could only be described as servility to hard currency.

I went in for some cigarettes — a place that’s usually always packed, even with customers standing in line waiting for tables — but it was deserted. There was only one single table occupied by two tourists, who were quietly sipping their coffee.

But, honestly, I didn’t give the matter any importance because I was in a hurry and had only gone in to satisfy my bad smoking habit.

But right behind me, a young man sat down at a table and asked the clerk, “One coffee, please.”

The clerk — with a somewhat upset voice — replied: “We’re not serving because there’s no water.”

To that the young guy replied, “But those foreigners are drinking coffee.”

Almost sarcastically and in a conclusive manner, she responded, “But that coffee is sold in hard currency, sonny.”

I was almost at the door when the young man looked at me shocked, shrugged his shoulders and thought aloud, “So there’s water for coffee in hard currency but not for coffee in national currency?”

I didn’t have much time to discuss the issue with him; I only commented that it wasn’t unusual to get a response like that.

By virtue of having been mistreated for so long, you end up assuming that things as ridiculous as these are to be expected in the lives of any of us who pay in local currency.

If the coffee servers have no water to provide the service, they won’t make alternative efforts to fill their pots. It’s not their business so they don’t care who gets the urge to drink coffee.

On the other hand, they’re savvy enough to always maintain a “little reserve” of the precious liquid for tourists who come in anxious for the black nectar.

They are people who will leave tips for the waiters, who can use the money to buy needed items for their homes from the hard currency store, which doesn’t accept our national currency.

Therefore the waiters and clerks don’t go to a lot of trouble for customers who don’t benefit them. If one has to be helpful and serviceable — sorry, I meant to say humble and servile — it has to be for hard currency.

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.