What He Wants is Greenbacks, Not Devalued Cuban Pesos

The copper makeup does not hide the living statue’s displeasure when Cuban pesos are placed on his chest. (14ymedio)

By Juan Diego Rodríguez (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – The sullen face, the revolver in his belt and a straw sombrero converted into a tricorn hat: the living statue of the pirate on Calle de los Oficios does not need to set up an ambush to fill his chest. The one dollar bill that he carries in the lid of his piggy bank, like a talisman, says it all: the secret to getting the buccaneer to move – like everything in Havana – is money.

Not even the copper makeup can hide his displeasure when a naive person drops Cuban pesos into the chest. Based among the old Havana cannons, the pirate barely changes his position. “Don’t even think of saying anything else to Jack Sparrow,” one observer sarcastically comments, alluding to the bandit in the film Pirates of the Caribbean. “What he wants is green.”

The buccaneer, who tries to make a living under the tropical sun, is another sign that Old Havana has seen better times. Like the so-called “heritage stores” – which sold any souvenir at a very high price to tourists – or the Obispo bookstores, street art was one of the projects with which the Office of the Historian aspired to breathe life into the historic center and, thus, fill its own coffers.

Now, however, Eusebio Leal himself has ended up becoming a statue – and not a living one – while the Office, without a historian and under the control of the Government, has been unable to sustain its cultural and financial projects in the city center. This is attested to by the scarcity, if not the total dismantling, of the initiatives that depended on Leal’s skill and personal contacts.

A solid fence prevents walkers from entering the small Oficios park, on the corner of Sol. (14ymedio)

A solid fence prevents walkers from entering the small Oficios park, on the corner of Sol. Leaves, garbage and poorly maintained plants are what can be seen between the bars of what was once a recreational space for Havana residents. Years ago, an artificial stream ran through its canals that filled several fountains, and the elderly people of the area sat on its benches to sunbathe.

A herd of tourists, who do not pay much attention to the ruins, wander through the Havana port, cross the Plaza de Armas and go up Obispo in search of the bookstores indicated on the map on their phones. Total disappointment: La Moderna Poesía, which was once the most famous bookstore in Cuba – the young Lezama Lima held his gatherings there – is now in the most regrettable abandonment.

Only in the Fayad Jamís, whose wooden façade has not been varnished for years, are there books, but few are Cuban. Most of them are Venezuelan titles that are of little interest to the reader, and some of Leal’s books translated into English and French, which are sold as a kind of sentimental tourist guides to Havana.

There is not much to expect from the “heritage stores” either. The once formidable Havana branch of Cuervo y Sobrinos – the Cuban watchmaker founded in 1862 and nationalized by Fidel Castro – which managed to resurrect its prestige thanks to Swiss investors, has now withdrawn its luxury watches from the capital. Instead, they sell straps and bracelets.

The Obispo troubadour-beggar tries, in vain, to gain a tip from a Russian by singing in her language. (14ymedio)

Completing the panorama of the high tourist season are numerous beggars and other “hunger artists” who, guitar in hand, try to extract a few dollars from the visitor who observes them. When a Canadian or an Italian arrives there is luck, but if he plays to a Russian, not even singing to him in his language – as the troubadour-beggar does in Obispo – he might manage to get a ruble.

With that thunder, on the island of pirates and ruins the only thing left to do is sneak over to the Plaza Vieja and look on the map for a bar where you can quench your thirst. The visitor’s final disappointment awaits him there: there is no beer even in the Casa de la Cerveza. “Havana is closed!” they shout at him, without him knowing very well where the voice is coming from.

Translated by Translating Cuba

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

One thought on “What He Wants is Greenbacks, Not Devalued Cuban Pesos

  • Artistically inclined article serves as a sad metaphor for Cuba.
    Why not take a mental trip into to agile poverty outside money loaded Habana?
    Habana gets exclusive treatment. While the rest of Cuba is suffering constant blackouts, food shortages and increasing crime against the poor, you dwell on tourists attractions in Habana!!!!

    What about the constant gouging by Cuban political system allowing for huge inflated payola payoffs for legal documents. This has even, according to some people, infiltrated embassies including Spanish Embassy where payments in US dollars gets your application a higher ranking or payola for medical services which all Cubans are forced to accept yet many suffer and die simply because they can not afford it and is necessary to pay in US dollars.

    Sad state of affairs but yes a suffering bookstore for tourists certainly is more important.
    See Youtube videos and social media declarations.
    I will not be visiting Cuba and my opinions carry no weight.
    Changing this rustic system will take years it seems.

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