Isbel Diaz Torres

CADECA change house. Photo:

The news of the elimination of the surcharge on the US dollar was joyously sent from email account to email account.  Nonetheless, exchange rates at Cuban bureaux de change (CADECAs) remained unchanged.

After stopping to think a second, I understood.  The headlines from the BBC and El Pais that appeared in our email accounts on December 26 had confused us.  They should have specified that the change will be applicable only to those dollars coming from the United States through Western Union.

This would mean, for example, that if a friend arrived from abroad and gave me $10 USD, when I went to the CADECA I would still receive only $8 CUC, as always.  Though such an experience is not as frequent as I would like, it is indeed part of the reality of many Cuban families.

When residents in the United States or Mexico come to the island, they often give a few dollars to their relatives and friends.  However those dollars won’t have the same privileges as the ones benefitting from the recent agreement between Western Union and the Cuban government.  They have cut an excellent deal… for them.

Let’s take a closer look.

An excellent deal cut…for them. Photo: Isbel Diaz

Western Union will achieve a monopoly on the transfer of remittances to the island.  Previously, it was not the favorite vehicle for most Cubans due to the high rates of that transnational corporation.  In addition, many of the gifts received here are small amounts.

On the other hand, the Cuban government will be able to better control and manage its finances (which seems a good thing) and it will receive almost all of the American dollars that are transferred to the island.  Under the new formula, the island’s government will earn 20 percent on all transactions carried out in CADECAs and 10 percent on those realized through Western Union.  In no instance does it lose.

Those who will not benefit will be the poor who from time to time receive a few “dolaritos” as gifts.  Also shortchanged will be families that, though they live abroad, won’t be able to afford Western Union and therefore will be forced to send assistance through someone coming to the island.

I should add that those who the media refer to as “mules” are often family members bringing help to their relatives and not always people simply seeking profit.

I also wonder what the rate will be for foreigners who exchange currency in the airport when entering the country.  Will they be obliged to send their money to themselves through Western Union to avoid the government surcharge?

Lastly, I am struck by the question of who will manage the data for all of these transactions: the names of the originators and recipients, their home addresses, the amounts sent…  I’ve never received a package from Western Union, but I assume they provide a form explaining the confidentiality of the personal data – but will that be enough?

In short…a little less enthusiasm my friends.  Let´s wait and see how things unfold.  Hopefully in the future (while the absurdity of capitalist logic prevails on this planet) a single USD/CUC exchange rate reflecting the true position of both currencies will be established for all of Cuba.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

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