By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – My cellphone rings and when I pick it up, I have my little girl’s voice on the other end of the line asking: “Papa, what did the Three Kings bring me?”
I don’t know what to tell her, so in response, as a joke, I say that these kings were astrologers in the Middle East and their star only led them to Bethlehem, that they wouldn’t cross continents and an ocean to bring her presents.
But she laughs and insists that they must have brought her something. The truth is she wants candy, juice, things to eat.
So, before going to see her, I have no other choice but to go into one of those stores with USD prices that have been set up in a currency they call MLC (Freely Convertible Currency), which is nothing more than a virtual currency that the government invented in early 2021 as part of the so-called Currency Reform, which was to fill their coffers again, and is based upon dollars and euros.
They are the only relatively well-stocked stores in the entire country. Although the problem lies in the fact that Cubans aren’t paid in this currency and Cubans who don’t have any relatives living abroad (called scum and worms once upon a time, but have been rebaptized a while ago under the title “community members”), or a source abroad to send them foreign currency, are literally in a tough spot, and have to exchange their miserable pesos into MLC, the market value of which already stands at over 80 Cuban pesos.
In the beginning, the Government said that this measure was a necessary, but temporary, evil, and that its purpose was to improve the economy and stock up markets and national currency stores.
However, this hasn’t happened at all and we can deduce two things: That the “reforms process” didn’t manage to eliminate the country’s dual currency, and that the existence of MLC stores isn’t fleeting either, in fact Cubans feel like they have come to stay for good.
The saddest thing is how shameful the prices are. Let’s give you some of the cheaper products you can find in these stores as an example: a can of root beer costs 0.80 MLC, which is the equivalent to 64 pesos; a little bottle of juice costs 2.50 MLC, equivalent to 200 pesos; a can of soda costs 1 MLC, equivalent to 80 pesos; a jar of mayonnaise is 2 MLC, equivalent to 160 pesos, etc.
Not to mention other products. I had to buy a fan recently, one of the “cheaper” ones cost 52 MLC, which is the equivalent to 4160 pesos, which is higher than the average wage of any Cuban worker, which fluctuates around 3000 pesos.
Well, anyway, I went into the store, bought a couple of goodies and even though I was happy when I left that my little girl would be able to enjoy a little candy, I couldn’t stop thinking how unfair this whole situation is and I wonder: what does the future hold for us?
Meanwhile, many are looking for a way to reach the Cuban dream, which is leaving this country. All because we have things like this currency apartheid in stores and many other horrors.