A Problem of Change

By Regina Cano

A shortage of coins is tacitly raising prices. Photo:www.joelscoins.com
A shortage of coins is tacitly raising prices. Photo:www.joelscoins.com

In buying anything, having coins in hand is something indispensable around the world. This type of currency has to be issued widely, because despite its seeming durability (given their being made of metal), coins disappear quickly into circulation; they tend to get lost as well as be employed for other uses.

In Cuba, government-run shops provide services or sell goods at prices that include centavos (cents). There are large numbers of these state-managed retail establishments (far more than the number of private businesses, which charge prices in rounded-off figures).

In these government-run establishments, when a customer pays for a good or service, if the clerk doesn’t have change to make the corresponding refund, the price ends up being rounded off against the buyer, hiking the real price of the service or product.

It’s not that they are concealing the official price, but it has been established as something of a norm that prices must be paid in whole pesos, even when the price is indicated in fractions. It is assumed that the price is greater, and thus the expression “the peso’s not worth anything” (in comparison to the Convertible Peso or CUC that circulates in Cuba).

That phrase indicates the different psychological and tangible ways that this impacts the Cuban people, given the fact that the regular peso (called Moneda Nacional or MN) continues being the currency in which people are paid for their daily efforts. In addition, it is the tender with which a significant percent of the population uses to pay the great majority of their necessary expenses (electricity, gas, rent, publicly rationed food, public transportation, etc.).

Paying for transportation is something complex, after we have experienced almost 20 years of unstable madness in this area after the collapse of the Socialist Bloc. Attempts to resolve this problem were first made through experiments (like the “Camel” buses), and later with donations of foreign buses, as well as through more recent major investments by the Cuban government, which has tried to solve the public transportation nationally and especially in Havana.

Firstly, though the price of the bus is 40 centavos, passengers usually pay one peso every time they board; this is due to the recent installation of collection boxes and a lack of change. Prior to these, fares were paid directly to a collector, though one would often run into the same problem, “Sorry brother, I don’t have any change.”

Whereas the surpluses used to go into the pockets of that collector, who later shared them with the driver, they now presumably end up in the government’s coffers.

However, what’s now happening is that Cubans are slowly establishing daily practices to supposedly fight things like this, but what is surprising is that they are like quiet, complicit and tacit agreements.

People, who don’t have change to put into the moneybox, sometimes split the surplus with a person behind them (accepting the other rider’s 40 centavos and paying for both riders with their one peso).

Alternately, they place the peso on the dashboard so the driver can put it directly into their pocket, adding it to the surplus daily income that had been lost because collectors no longer exist.

I wonder if this is assistance to a fellow worker to increase the driver’s unofficial wage, or does the public prefer not giving more money to the government, or is this a veiled protest against the absence of change? I don’t know… these things can be difficult to explain.

Regina Cano

Regina Cano: I have lived my entire life in Havana, Cuba – the island from which I’ve still never left, and which I love. I was born on September 9, and my parents chose my name out of superstition, but my mother raised me outside the religion professed by her family. I studied accounting and finance at the University of Havana, a profession that I’m not engaged in for the time being, and that I substituted for doing crafts, some ceramics, and studying a little English and about painting. Ah! – concerning my picture: I identify with Rastafarian principles, but I am not one of them. I wear this cap from time to time, but I assure you I just didn't have a better picture.

One thought on “A Problem of Change

  • Well, it has been awhile since i have time to seriously peruse this site, i usually pick a topic and run with it.
    However, being as i have experienced the CHANGE. issue hewre in Cuba as well as back in the US .i would ask what would happen if Cuba would consider transforming the CHANGE system to a ticket system with monetary values which would last perhaps on a daily basis or weekly-monthly..
    This could be implimented based on a persons personal need but this usually is for those who want to park those 57 chevy’s and fords and take public trans..LOL

    ooops i apologize let me clear my throat and intro myself..
    i am Milagros Villamil, exile Cuban born …from Matanzas… former dancer… musician and now ret Atty and cert midwife. When i am not in Cuba i live in Fla where we have a public trans system which can be paid for using several means.

    1. change

    2.dollars or a combo of both ie 1,25 one way or 2.50 for a day pass 24.hrs unless your a senior citizen (is less exp) for the gen public its 2.50 a day x 7 =17.50

    It may be time for TO TRANS FORM THE SYSTEM.. no more change needed..Now before this is poo pooed..check it out

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