Nothing for Ordinary Cubans

Kabir Vega Castellanos

Illustration by Yasser Castellanos from his series “ordinary cubans”.

HAVANA TIMES — The internet isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Plus, the 2 CUC (US $2.30) price tag for a 1 hour access card is still a great blow to the Cuban people’s economy. However, the problem isn’t only the government’s expensive price, but also the cruel initiative that resellers take.

They take advantage of the fact there are very few ETECSA retail outlets and that employees there would rather sell them in bulk in exchange for getting a few cents extra for each card sold, since when these are sold directly to the general population, they don’t get a cut.

The only option Cuban people have when these cards “are lost” from the sales points is to go to one of these resellers and by this time, the price for 1 hour of internet isn’t 2 CUC anymore but 3.

The same thing happens in other areas of trade. Sandals which cost 100 CUP (less than 5 CUC), is something a worker can afford, however not without sacrifice. Prices in hard-currency shoes shops or at self-employed sellers markets are a great deal more expensive.

However, when products come out onto the market, there are some people who come, almost immediately, to buy not one or two pairs, but boxes and boxes so that they can then resell them at exorbitant prices. Towels, sheets and even bottles of bleach run the same fate. The latter is sold in its pure state for 8 Cuban pesos and resellers water it down and sell it in bigger bottles for 20 pesos.

In regular Cuban peso stores, you know when some kind of highly sought-after product has come in by the chaos that forms outside in front of the shop. Groups of resellers who dominate the line are extremely brusque in their behavior.

Even in stores where used clothing is sold, (the cheapest solution Cuban people have to dress themselves), employees themselves handpick the best pieces and separate them and only put the extra large sizes on sale (which only an obese person can use) along with the most dull, out of fashion and even ripped clothes.

If you want to get your hands on something worthwhile, you’ll have to become friends with an employee in one of these stores, pay more for the clothes than the stipulated price or exchange it with a favor to the new owner.

Now, let me ask a question: is reselling a business? Yes, and it’s very useful too. Since the most ancient of times, tradesmen used to buy goods in one area and then distribute them where these kind of offers weren’t available.

However, from the way we’re looking at it in this article, it can’t even be considered a job. Hoarding all of the goods in one place, only to resell them there in the same place, for a higher price, is nothing more than a scam. Like Cubans commonly say, it’s putting your foot in it.

Even though the current situation in Cuba is complex and business freedom is extremely limited, there are always some gaps which some business people can fill to make a profit, or in the worst of cases, survive. Creating a similar product and putting it on the market, thereby creating competition, would be a starting point for real progress.

Of course, this is next to impossible a lot of the time. However, you can’t say that the only way to get ahead is by taking advantage of the general population’s need, hoarding a product sale which is especially destined for ordinary Cubans, which are once again the ones to lose out.

Kabir Vega

I am a young man whose development in life has not been what many might consider normal or appropriate, but I don’t regret it. Although I am very reserved, I dissent strongly from many things. I believe that society, and not only of Cuba, is wrong and needs to change. I love animals sometimes even more than myself since they lack evil. I am also a fan of the world of Otaku. I started in Havana Times because it allowed me to tell some experiences and perhaps encourage some change in my country. I may be naive in my arguments, but I am true to my principles.

Kabir Vega has 86 posts and counting. See all posts by Kabir Vega

5 thoughts on “Nothing for Ordinary Cubans

  • You got it Sky.. it is survival of the fittest under which btw, the majority of the developing world live. I have travelled most regions of the world and have lived in Cuba so I believe I am speaking from first hand experience. I’ve always maintained that all Cubans have the minimum to survive fairly well and while not exactly ‘free’, attainable by the ‘average’ Cuban ie education, food, healthcare and a place to live. There will always be those who have more in any society and complete and total equality is impossible… I think of my childhood when my older sister would always end up with more dessert by scamming from my younger brother for whatever he was ready to deal for.. like she had to do the dishes when it was his turn. What is it exactly that makes the Cuban so hard done by? They say they can’t travel.. well neither can the vast majority of the developing world, simply because they don’t have the money. I would love to get on the topic of Cubans marrying foreigners but will leave that for my next post however just let me say 99% of those marriages don’t work out (not an official statistic but you get the point). What are people thinking?? They’re clearly not! In conclusion I want to say that yes Cuban people are charming and know how to charm but they are not the only people in the world that are in need.

  • Matt Ridley makes a good point here and also in one of his books. There is trade and markets, but there are also people who make money they don’t deserve. The above neatly fits into that category.

    I may be stating the obvious, but this it is down to a shortage of the product. This only happens in the UK where there is a natural restriction of number ie tickets to see a sporting or musical event or a new gadget that the manufacturer can’t bring out enough to fulfill demand. Other than that, the black market is small and restricted to stolen goods and the sellers have to drop the price below normal outlets in order to sell the goods. Any solution to this problem must require removing the shortage. As a starter let the shop keepers order more of the product as soon as it runs out.

  • Hopefully this will change however it is supple and demand so once the supply multiplies capabilities in connecting should be better. Having seen videos of the Rolling Stone concert in Havana, it appears that there’s an elite that has what most other citizens don’t, nice clothes and money. So much for Utopia.

  • Reminds me of our experience in Santiago de Cuba – scammers outside the hotel that were actually resellers. Clothing that some Canadians brought and thought they were giving to those in need went to these people who exploited fellow Cubans.

  • Welcome to the wider world and ‘dog eat dog’. Sad but true

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