A Cuba Man’s Dilemma: What Will he Buy?

Yusimi Rodriguez

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Nov 25 — Andres is a lucky man these days. He has the opportunity to buy items at a hard-currency store with a certain amount of money that’s paid to him on his job.

He’s fortunate. The vast majority of workers in the country receive their wages only in national currency, and in many cases they get paid less than 500 pesos a month (less than $20 USD).

That amount isn’t enough to cover all of one’s expenses (his either), which go for paying the electric bill or buying food, clothes and shoes – even when assuming that someone doesn’t have to pay off their debt for cooking appliances required by the Energy Revolution Program.

Clothes and shoes fall into the category of “luxuries.” However Andres — in addition to his salary in local currency — receives between 23 and 26 CUC…once a year (around $28 USD).

How this works: At a certain time of the year, at the end, they figure out the number of “points” (meaning hard-currency convertible pesos or CUCs) that are assigned, as well as the date and the place where you get to make your purchase.

You don’t receive the money in cash, but in a voucher.

If you don’t find anything that you want to spend the money on, anything that’s more or less useful, then that’s just tough – you can only buy something on that one day. You might end up having to buy some item of clothing; even if you don’t like it or it’s not your size, so you can sell it later.

“In recent years, the store hasn’t been fully stocked, so we had to spend the money on towels, sheets or curtains. On another occasion, since I didn’t need any more towels or sheets, I sold my voucher to someone for fifteen CUCs. They should at least let us accumulate the money over say four or five years; then they could give it to us in cash to buy something we really want and need,” Andres explained.

If that idea was implemented, the employees wouldn’t make their purchases in just any hard currency store, but in a “boutique.” The chances of finding clothes and shoes in their size, not to mention to their liking, are greater. Boutiques sell designer goods, with much higher quality than other stores…but also at higher prices.

With 23 convertible pesos Andres can buy a T-shirt, or a button down shirt, or a pair of pants, and maybe even a pair of socks. If anything is left over he can buy a bar of soap or some candy. He can’t even dream about getting a pair of shoes.

“I want to believe that someday I’ll get lucky. I’ve never gone in a boutique, but I have a friend who once managed to find a very nice pair of sandals, good quality ones that were relatively cheap – at least for a boutique,” he added.

We’re only one week away, but Andres still doesn’t know what store is the one where he’ll have to make his purchase. He’s getting worried and trying to figure the best way to invest his 23 CUCs.

“The night before the purchase I can’t sleep. I sit up in bed, like the cartoon character Martina the Cockroach, with my voucher asking myself: ‘What am I going to buy? What am I going to buy?” he said as we parted.

As usual, he managed to make me laugh.