How much is a Wife Worth in Cuba?

Osmel Almaguer

Statue of Jose Marti in Central Park Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — Sometimes, it feels like I’m living in one of those countries where parents still sell their daughters into marriage, in exchange for goats or some other kind of property, where human beings are marketable items or, worse, where loved ones can become exchange goods.

But no, I don’t live in one of those countries where such practices are, at least, culturally and ethically justified. I live in Cuba, a small island that has “dared undertake a revolution at the very doorsteps of the Empire.”

For over fifty years, this social undertaking has aimed – with some degree of success – to improve the life of Cubans and, above all, to elevate the spiritual values of the nation.

Though inconspicuous, the sale of wives or “girlfriends” is a phenomenon faced by Cuban society which we cannot simply ignore, a social ill that, though unacknowledged, is far from having been eradicated.

I am speaking, not of a widespread phenomenon, but of a trend, a tendency, I would venture to say, which is directly proportional to the economic crisis endured by the country. That said, we mustn’t forget that moral degradation can grow in proportions as uncontrollably as a snowball rolling downhill.

A few weeks ago, my friend Luis had an experience of this nature. He met a girl and everything seemed to be going wonderfully…until he was introduced to the girl’s mother.

The day after, the girl called him to break up with him. She was sobbing over the phone and didn’t even want to talk to him directly. She only managed to tell him that her mother wanted to fix her up “with the son of a friend who works at the Hotel Nacional (a luxurious hotel in Havana).”

We all know of the unofficial “perks” that hotel employees enjoy. State salaries in the tourism sector are among the lowest in Cuba, but workers in the sector are not exactly the worst off in the country. But this girl’s mother would rather see her daughter date someone with ill-gotten money than my friend.

Luis is a conscientious clerk at a bank that pays him some 40 or 50 Cuban Convertible Pesos (45 to 55 USD) a month, plus a regular salary of 400 Cuban pesos. Though this is far from enough to be able to live in luxury, it is about twice or three times as much what an average Cuban employee earns a month.

“I’m sure it’s not the first time this has happened to you, and that it won’t be the last. It’s happened to me more than once,” I say to him to make him feel better. It must be tough for him to be treated so rudely, after working so hard. He doesn’t know what to say.

All he wants is to meet a nice girl and get married, but he doesn’t have enough “goats” to do this, not yet, anyways.

Many are the Cuban mothers who think this way today, who jeopardize their daughters’ present and future, teaching them to love things that have no lasting value, such as money and fancy clothes.


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

6 thoughts on “How much is a Wife Worth in Cuba?

  • Despite extreme adversity Cuba has managed to survive and although the people are generally poor from a financial standpoint, to my eye they look socially and culturally very rich. It would not take much stimulus from outside for the country to blossom and grow. They have in place all the systems for that to happen, a good educational and medical system. Look at other countries closeby, lets not even consider Haiti, but look at Jamaica, ex-British colony, English speaking, emancipation for over 180 years, half an hour from Miami, supposed democracy and a total “shithole” full of crime, drugs and poverty. Jamaica and most of the Caribbean today is even worse off then when they got independence. At least Cuba has held its head high and forged a way through the morass. Sure life is hard but it could get better very quickly if the US would at least give it the respect it deserves.

  • What’s your point?

  • People, looking at some other Caribbean country example Haiti where people don’t know when are they gonna get their next meal, and looking at Cuba where people can still eat one meal a day, no gangs, no weed, where safety is no concern, think about it witch one of the two is better, Haiti or Cuba. Think!!!

  • For fifty years the Cuban regime has destroyed the Cuban economy and has spent the cash of others (the Soviet Union and Venezuela) to survive.

    The Soviet subsidy in facts paid for all aspects of education, health, social services, … All of the above not thanks to the Castro regime, but in spite of: paid for with the cash of others.

    Today you need cash to pay for food, medicines, … cash that about 60% of Cubans get from abroad. The “social undertaking” miserably failed. Not removing the Castro regime is jeopardizing the future of young people in Cuba. it will only encourage even more to leave.

  • cubans would be alot better off if the castro brothers would completely open the private sector to cubans who are willing to take the risk. i met a man in cienfuegos who ran a “casa particular” and was working hard to help his family. he told me that he had owned and ran a bodega in the 60s until castro outlawed all private enterprise in 1968. he was servicing his neighborhood and the thanks he got from the revolution was to be forced out of business. cuba should learn from china that private enterprise is the key to reducing poverty and stimulating economic growth.

  • My wife’s boss at the national morning news has always had a sort of father-daughter relationship with her. In the beginning of our relationship, we kept the fact that we were dating a secret as much as possible. She was a national ‘personaity’, communist party member and I was a foreigner. Worse yet, an African-American. Well, despite all our efforts, her boss somehow saw us together one night at the Havana Cafe. He did not approach us at that time, but the next day at work he asked my wife how her ‘date’ was the night before. Caught off guard, she said fine but that it wasn’t a date and she was just out with several friends. He seemed to believe her at the time but reminded her to just be careful because “those negroes will add no value to her career and could tarnish her image”. We eventually went public with our relationship after a few months and I finally stopped by the station at 23rd and M. Her boss recognized me from that night at the Havana Cafe and said that my wife should have told him from the beginning that I was a foreigner. He said he was worried that she was hanging out with just a Black Cuban, but a Black foreigner was not a problem. True story!

Comments are closed.