ATMs in Havana Are Near Broke

People waiting at an ATM in Havana.

By Esther Zoza

HAVANA TIMES – The ATM situation in the Cuban capital is unbearable. Getting out my August wages took me on a difficult pilgrimage through different Havana municipalities.

The first day, I left home at 6 AM. I checked the weather, filled up two bottles of water, dressed up in my brother’s shirt and grabbed an umbrella. I sang all the five blocks that separated me from the bank where the closest ATM was. But that positive energy wasn’t enough. There was such a crowd, that it seemed like all of the neighboring residents had the same idea I had.

After three hours putting up with my heavy backpack and people’s comments, the ATM ran out of cash. A wave of irritation began to spread and threatened to bring the bank down, when I decided to go to another bank in my municipality.

On the way, I couldn’t help but wonder how it was possible the ATM ran out of cash after only an hour of being in service. Isn’t it protocol to fill them up before the bank branch closes? Isn’t it the bank’s responsibility?

Reaching the other bank, which is a lot bigger than the first, and with three ATMs, made me ignore the line. I imagined I’d have the money in my hands before 1 PM. I was wrong. The network collapsed at 2 PM, after putting up with a scorching sun. I don’t need to tell you that people shouted and complained, but… it wasn’t the bank employees’ fault, right? 

The reality is that many ATMs that still work in Havana, are either out of service because of no cash, or they’ve broken down, need maintenance or are without a network connection. The rest, which are already ancient, are only good for checking your balance, making a bank transfer or payment of services.

Making plans for your day, taking it for granted that something that should be immediate is immediate, isn’t always the case in Cuba. I returned home without any money. The next day, I began my journey again through Central and Old Havana. In Old Havana, I joined a line that had orderly formed in the shade, in front of the ATM.  Four hours later, I got my money.

That night, with the naivety of those who were born in 1959, my father asked me how it was possible that after investing so much in debit cards, they hadn’t bought spare parts for ATMs. I didn’t answer.

Read more from the diary of Esther Zoza here.

Esther Zoza

I was born in the 60s. I love my country and its simple and sacrificed people. I like the arts, particularly literature. In music I enjoy traditional and contemporary trova, also opera and instrumental music. I respect all religions. I like esoteric and mystical subjects; I also enjoy the enigmas of the universe. I believe above all things in God. I am persistent and disciplined to meet my goals. I like the countryside. I live near the sea. I believe in relationships and love in all its manifestations.