The story of an enterprising Cuban family
Vicente Morín Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — Maidelin looks at the clock. It’s five in the afternoon. The lights of four USB drives connected to a hub still flicker. Her boy is waiting at the day care center, her little girl has perhaps already returned from school. Her husband Hector left a few minutes ago to collect the take from two associated salespersons.
“I don’t know how long we’ll be doing this for, but we’ll stop some day. It adds up, we make money, but we’re also exhausted.”
It is hard to find answers in the bits and pieces of opinions heard from an enterprising couple who chose to sell digital materials in DVDs and other storage devices. Anywhere else in the world, this would be considered illegal but, luckily for both customers and sellers, Cuban authorities are still turning a blind eye on these types of transactions.
Hector offers us some details about the business:
“We rent out this locale for 100 Cuban pesos (5 USD) a day. We live in the heart of Marianao, in Pogolotti. There’s no business there, it’s the exact opposite of this street, Monte, crossed by thousands of people every day.”
I ask why there are people in line, waiting to copy whole packages of soap operas, TV series and films with their USB drives, the people’s Internet in Cuba.
“A ‘package,’ that is to say, the best that’s been downloaded from the Internet during the week, costs 50 Cuban pesos, which is about two dollars,” Maidelin says. “We do the work at home, putting the most popular soap operas, TV shows right now (such as Belleza Latina) and even classified ads from Revolico.com into different folders. The ads are very much in demand right now because the website offers just about everything you can buy in Cuba, from a house to a phone. Since the site is blocked by the government, they come here to buy it.”
Maidelin and Hector charge one regular peso for every downloaded file, that is to say, if you want the five weekly episodes of Ezel, you pay five pesos, and so and so forth. The main computer has two DVD burners, capable of recording up to 4.7 Gb in a matter of minutes. These DVDs cost 1 Cuban Convertible Pesos, the equivalent of 25 Cuban pesos (1.25 USD).
It’s hard to get any exact information about their income. In confidence, Hector dares share some approximations and expenses:
“We work from noon, on Monday, till Sunday morning, because we depend on the Internet package they bring us. We really never stop working. We have to keep going at home. We’ve sold as many as 90 DVDs on a day, the maximum, without counting the copies onto USB drives. Add to that the other two sale points which only offer DVDs. Here, we copy files onto USB drives and, if we have time, burn DVDs also.”
They have to pay the rent of the other two locales, the official salaries of their employees (some 450 Cuban pesos a month) and the wages of at least one of the two of them, to fulfill the rules. The other stays at home to avoid being charged with tax evasion. Then there are daily expenses, such as snacks, lunches and even cold water and coffee.
Maidelin also looks after the house, and it’s quite the burden. She adds:
“I have no time. A neighbor picks up the kid at the kindergarten, helps me clean the house and even with the little girl when she comes home from school. Then there are the groceries. Without that woman, we wouldn’t be able to have this business.”
The math says there’s money to be made, at least for the time being, but no one knows how long this will last.
Hector explains: “An average sales of 40 to 50 Cuban Convertible Pesos (55-65 USD) a day leaves us enough to live on, save a bit and pay off debts and taxes, but no one really knows how this story will end. Our business is legal for the time being, we’re doing well, but the week never really ends for us and there’s much uncertainty. We know that copying and downloading things from the Internet is only a temporary business. What’s going to happen as Cuba-US relations get better? Maybe this whole dream will come to an end.”
Maidelin and Hector shut down their computer, kindly tell the last to arrive they are closed, cross the street and wave at a vintage American car headed for Pogolotti, where more work awaits, following but a few hours of rest and the next day.
Their last words reverberate in my ears, like the voices of a chorus:
“We’re exhausted, but we’ve got a bit of money.”
Vicente Morín Aguado: [email protected]