Regina Cano

Cuban three peso note. Photo: wikipedia.org

“Money”…this word in English always reminds me, pleasurably, of the song by Pink Floyd.

Since it first appeared, money has brought with it more problems than solutions, yet it remains here…resisting all the ravages of time because humans have not found anything to replace it.  Clearly, bartering is no longer a possibility we can return to, keeping in mind the financial reality that has existed for such a long time and upuntil today.

Cubans —in their creative search to re-designate things, to conceal things before the ears of others, to make these things more their own and to occasionally treat them in amusing ways— have come up with different names for money, though that element is sometimes an abstract term in our pockets.

During my life I’ve heard and verbalized different names for the currency that accompanies us and which turns our desires and material needs into reality – or not.  The exchanges of this medium supposedly relate to our daily “sweat” and continue to give value to what we believe we are as a civil society.

In my memory, the oldest appellations for money in Cuba have been: plata (silver), estilla (splinters or shavings), lana (wool), magua (a type of plant), guano (straw), mascada (a “wad,” especially when it’s a considerable amount), baro (a “peso” in Mexico), guaniquiqui (from “guano” or bird droppings, from a song), pécora (hookers), soldi (“money” in Italian), moni (from the English “money”), until the most recent Piticlines (from a television adventure or cartoon).

Dollars were given the names fulas, dolores, los verdes (the greens) or verdolaga (purslane) for their color, as well as moneda dura (hard currency), comparing them to the “soft” value of the Cuban peso.

Convertible Pesos (CUC), which remain in use nationally, are called “chavitos,” like the bills in the game of Monopoly, according to a friend of mine.

Also, someone one has just a little bit of money it’s called a tierrita or cirigaña.

Small coins are referred to as menudo (change) or quilera (from kilo, or thousandths, and cents).

As for the metal peso, which comes in values one and three, these are called morocotas.

Each 100 pesos is counted in terms of tablas (e.g.: three tablas equals 300 pesos), while people also refer to the Cuban peso as a caña (a sugarcane) for whatever amount in question (e.g.: 10 cañas, 1,000 cañas, 8,000 cañas).

One gets accustomed to hearing offhand phrases such as:

– I’m in the meat, in leather, salted or broke or I’m palmiche*: when one doesn’t have any money.

– (S)he’s hecho (set) or a “hechote,” for someone who does have some money.

– (S)he’s a maceta (flowerpot), for someone who has a lot of money.

– (S)he’s a agarra’ (a grabber) or they “walk on their elbows,” or they’re a Chicho Durañón (a figure from a comic strip) are phrases describing someone who is considered stingy; a person who is selfish and “doesn’t let go of a dime.”

Mala paga (a poor payer) describes someone who doesn’t pay.

Apretador (a squeezer) is someone who doesn’t pay the exact value of things exactly – they squeeze!

Tírame un salve (throw me a lifesaver) is to ask for a loan or financial help.

No way, people! Cubans are never at a loss of words to refer to things by their name in monetary terms.

* Palmiche isn’t referring to the palmiche (the Royal Palm Tree), but to pasmado (dead broke), which has nothing to do with money.


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.

4 thoughts on “Terms for Money in Cuba

  • Bottom line: since the bank, in funding a mortgage, does not actually “loan” money, but only monetizes the future productive power of the person or persons taking out the mortgage, then any interest paid to the bank is entirely unjust. It is the super-exploitation the home buyer.

    The person’s future productive power is his or her private property by natural right. Why should he or she therefore be charged interest on something that already belongs to him or her?

    The bank under capitalism, because it has the legal right to do so, is coming into possession of the private property–the productive capacity–of the “loanee.”

    What all this really boils down to is that modern monopoly capitalism exploits the working classes–proletarian, intellectual and small business families–much more through credit usury than through the old, industrial exploitation through wage and salary labor.

    The pivotal question of the socialist transformation is: “How will money be created under authentic, workable socialism?”

    In our view–the view of the cooperative republic movement–the banking system should be owned cooperatively by both the depositors and the banking workers. Credit extensions should be made by these cooperative banks, using the historically evolved “fractional reserve” mechanism.

    Interest however should never be charged, and all loans should be made for a flat fee. This fee should be enough to cover the expenses of the bank, plus some profit for the cooperative owners, but it should not and would not come anywhere near the enormous profit of capitalistic banks.

    This also entails canceling the gargantuan, unjust debt of both the advanced and the developing countries, i.e., most of it, the part made by capitalistic fractional reserve “lending.”

    The network of socialist cooperative republics we hope to bring into existence in the relatively near term will liberate the working classes by taking control of the banking/credit/monetary system, as well as transfer ownership of the land and means of production directly to those who do the work on the Mondragon model (with partial, non-controlling state ownership).

    In the US we call for establishment of a Cooperative Republic by democratic means, as long as such means are available. We hope that our sisters and brothers in Cuba will establish such a republic in their brave country and show the world authentic, workable socialism.

  • Well, no one else has commented, so let me say one thing more.

    Money under capitalism is “poofed” into existence as debt-bearing “loans.” The pretense is made that the bank has this money on hand as its own property, and that it “loans” it to, let’s say, a home buyer.

    But the bank did not, in fact, take something it owned and then loans it to the home buyer. The bank simply monetizes something that home buyer already owns by natural right: his or her future ability to work and think and create goods and services in the economy. The home buyer however has to re-pay the original “loan,” plus about double that amount in unjust interest.

    It’s the interest that is the “usury,” something that has been railed against in the Jewish and Christian Bibles and the Koran. Unfortunately, only Islamic banking follows the heavenly prohibition of interest/usury.

    Maybe that’s part of why they are so eager to bomb the Islamic peoples!

    In any case, only a socialist cooperative republic can end the old banking/monetary system and create a livable, socialist world.

  • The question that keeps popping up is: “What is money?” Class society has had to obscure the answer for centuries. Obscuring it has been critical in the industrial age, for unless money remains a mystery, the idea for a just, post-capitalist society becomes fairly self-evident.

    In the first place, money does not have intrinsic value. It represents value, but does not contain it as a physical property. Money does not need to have intrinsic value anymore than a yardstick needs to have intrinsic value equivalent to something it measures.

    In a modern industrial society money is created through credit extension by a financial institution like a bank. This creation appears to be magical because it is “poofed” into existence by the flick of a computer keyboard. Yet, it is not magic; it represents something objective in society: the latent ability of productive persons to create use values in the economy through their labor and genius.

    Money then is created by bank credit extension, and it has–or ought to have–as its basis the ready labor and genius of the receiver of credit to “pay it back to the bank.”

    The absurdity of this is not that the bank poofs it into existence like magic, but that it is a certification of something that belongs to productive persons–workers–by natural right. It is their natural private property.

    Modern cooperative socialism calls for a socialist cooperative republic in each country that can rationalize the money, banking & credit systems and stop the monstrous exploitation of the people by monopoly capitalism.

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