Jorge Milanes Despaigne
HAVANA TIMES — “You’re twenty-five cents short, sir,” the cashier at Havana’s Villa Panamericana store said to me, noticing I had given her less money than I had to by mistake. I searched my wallet and pockets thoroughly and only found regular peso notes, what we refer to as “Cuban pesos” here.
“You can pay with Cuban pesos if you like, sir. The exchange is at 25 pesos per Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC),” she said to me when she saw I only had Cuban pesos, while calculating the amount with the register. “You owe me six pesos and twenty-five cents,” she concluded, looking at me straight in the eyes.
People began to comment about this down the line, as being able to pay with Cuban pesos at hard currency stores is new to all of us. Surprised, I took out the money and paid the cashier. She courteously thanked me.
I know only what other people have told me about this. In some stores around Havana, you can already pay with the currency we’ve always had, the one we’re paid in, Cuban pesos, that is.
The re-establishment of a single-currency system has begun and, by the looks of it, the process is akin to the way in which the clothing ration booklet was discontinued – slow and gradual. Many people, however, continue to be skeptical about paying in Cuban pesos because of market fluctuations and the fear of losing out in the exchange. I heard several people in line say these things. The reasons why are obvious.
At an exchange locale (CADECA), for instance, the CUC (or “fula”, as it is popularly known) has a value of 25 Cuban pesos when you purchase it and of 24 when you sell it (at the same exchange locale, mind you). Loan sharks value the CUC at 23 pesos. If you pay the driver of a 10-peso cab with a CUC note, some give you 15 pesos change and others 13.
The situation will remain rather complex as long as this process of setting up a single-currency system is still underway, because of the calculations one has to make in order not to lose out on the exchange. It remains to be seen whether things will be better or worse when we finally have one currency.