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A day using money in Cuba (boazsobrado.com)
165 points by jpkoning 43 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 173 comments

I actually went to Cuba on holiday, and I used the tourist dollars.

It's incredible how this separates society into haves and have-nots. Basically everyone wants to be near the tourists. They'll invite you into their homes for food, they'll offer to take you around town, sell you some cigars, and so on.

Since you have tourist bucks, you also have access to the tourist nightclubs, where you run into some regional celebrities. Or you can find some nice rooftop bars to lounge in.

But walk around a bit, and you realise most of town is not like this. There's a lot of run-down places and a fair bit of desperation. Women will come offer themselves up.

Driving around it was apparent that most of the island is mired in poverty, with only a few places that are like a mediterranean club or hotel. Everywhere else is empty shelves and rudimentary technology. You'll see industrial trucks used as buses, for instance. And famously the cars tend to be really, really old.

Note that this separation is more due to the fact that you’re rich, than any formal currency arrangement. Foreigners in the 1990s got the same treatment, before any formal dollarization or dual currency system existed.

Cubans who make their money only from official sources are desperately poor. Those with connections abroad, connections to tourism or to the black market are richer.

The money difference merely makes it tangible. And the government goes a long way to try to separate tourists from the real society, though you can still get to it if you care to.

Source: worked there for an ngo for a year

>basically everyone wants to be near tourists

This is actually just the surface veneer. Anyone who approaches you speaking english is a hustler and does it professionally.

Cubans in wider society are interested, but also wary. The police arrest those who spend too much time with foreigners.

The typical cuban keeps to themselves, but the typical tourist will meet endless, non-typical hustlers.

> Anyone who approaches you speaking english is a hustler and does it professionally.

Outside the cities it's a bit better. Hitchhiking is common in Cuba and when we visited it was both fun and instructive to talk to the people to whom we offered a ride. Also talking to the people at CUP bars and restaurants like Dona Yulla was fun. We spoke Spanish though (or a mix of Spanish and Italian).

Agreed, different outside tourist hotspots.

>to whom we offered a ride.

But this is a major difference. You approach a Cuban --> 99.9% normal person. They approach you, speaking English --> probably hustler.

> And the government goes a long way to try to separate tourists from the real society, though you can still get to it if you care to.

It's not like that anymore. There are many Cubans who rent a room in their houses, so foreigners live with them and share with the family.

> The police arrest those who spend too much time with foreigners

It is possible, but I don't think it is very likely. I think those who can be arrested are doing some illegal activity, like selling tobacco or lobster. Generally these products are from the black market. In the city where I live there are always foreigners all year round and they coexist with Cubans normally.

You could rent rooms in houses when I was there too, that's mostly where I stayed. But 99% of the tourist market is in enclaves.

As for arresting Cubans, I may have spoken too loosely. The government doesn't really have a problem with conversations between foreigners and Cubans here and there, or with people having a foreign friend. What the government is looking out for is someone who has a habit of talking to many different foreigners. Usually this is done for some illegal purpose: black market hustling, or sex work. But talking to a lot of different people is one of the things they use to check for that.

As an example, if a Cuban visits a foreign friend in one of those tourist rooms, they have to give up their internal passport to the host, who must record their visit in a log which the police review.

And like anything else, something which is tolerated can still cause problems. i.e. in much of the west, you can do drugs fairly safely, but you shouldn't wave it in a cop's face. So, if you are a Cuban and do have a foreign friend, you still have to be careful. Cuba has a system of neighbourhood government snitches that keep tabs on everyone. However, these have relaxed a bit I think.

I can say I never found Cubans hesitant to make friends with me while I worked there. But, Cubans always have to be careful about where the lines are, and not to cross them.

For more, have a look at all the replies to this question about my post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23305332

> The police arrest those who spend too much time with foreigners.

This is news to me. Do you have a source for this claim?

Police call it "tourism siege" or ideological diversion. I am cuban.

A female Spanish friend and I spent 11 days in Cuba in 2004. The overwhelming presence of security forces (secret police) made me feel the safest I have ever felt while traveling, even while being slightly drunk walking down a back alley at 2am, where two out of three street lights were broken and odd young men were sitting in the doorways of buildings with tons of ancient exposed wiring hanging down visible. There is a police station on every block of the city of Havana, apparently instituted long ago after someone set off a bomb during one of Fidel's hours long speeches. If anyone were to rob you, there is almost nothing they could spend it on without sticking out like a sore thumb. As far as arresting locals for approaching foreigners, back then the issue was with young Cuban women abandoning their $25/mo jobs and turning tricks with tourists ($100/night). I read that the police would never embarrass the tourist, but put the hammer down on the woman once she was away from the man. Those women were nicknamed jineteras[0], from the root jinete (jockey).

[0] https://www.bestcubatravelguide.com/jineteros-and-jineteras/

Seems plausible. Some guys offered to feed us lobster so we went to theirs, but they insisted on hiding the cars we'd rented. People seemed pretty careful about cops.

Lobster is illegal to sell to tourists. Camarón (large shrimps) is also illegal but they can find it more easily on the black market.

I thought it was the other way around, Lobsters and Shrimp could only be sold to tourists and for export in Cuba.

Indeed I wasn't accurate. The parent comment seemed to talk about a self-owned restaurant (paladar); since it is not legal for the owner to buy the lobster and shrimp in the first place, paladares and self-owned guestrooms cannot sell it to tourists either.

I have a friend who had befriended a Cuban guy and she was visiting him every year or two... On her last two visits he was detained multiple days for hanging out with her. He has now left Cuba for Russia.

Yes. Source: I'm cuban.

I’ve caused it, although approx 15 years ago when I was in Cuba for a month.

First time, an obviously dodgy couple in Havana approached me at night shortly after I arrived. I will usually be friendly and talk with anyone without prejudice. I enjoy talking to grifters and operators, and I will happily pretend to be a victim when it amuses me to do so if I only risk a few dollars. I have travelled enough to be somewhat careful and how to look after myself; I speak conversational Spanish which helps; and I am a white New Zealander which often avoids trouble, and it honestly also helps get out of trouble. Police took the couple away shortly after I started talking with them, and I was very concerned. However I managed to track down the relevant police station. A tourist hanging in police station for hours probably caused the police some hassle (they hard out lied and tried to deceive me, but I wasn’t deterred), so eventually the couple were released at about 4AM, and I was able to find out what happened. He was pimping her (absolutely not my scene), and they had been fined about USD4 which I just gave them. I think normal salary was USD5 per week, so they would have taken ages to pay it.

After that hideous experience in Havana, I decided to go to one of the gated touristy beach areas where I presumed every local was vetted. I did speak with locals, but avoided anyone that I thought was dodgy. But apparently one guy was arrested for talking to foreigners, which had included me, although he just wanted to practice English as far as I know (I never had a reason to suspect him of a darker ulterior motive). His friends said there was nothing I could do to help and that it wasn’t a big issue (maybe just par for the course, normal life), but I felt really helpless.

Another time a woman told me to pay a cop USD5 or else the cop would rape her. It didn’t feel like a scam on her part, she was truely scared, and I certainly wasn’t willing to risk anything so I paid the extortion. I think my only fault in that case was being a tourist. I probably should have reported the officer, but I was too surprised at the time to notice any ID, and even now I am unsure if there would have been retribution on her.

I suspect that if a tourist only speaks English, they might be less likely to cause trouble, and they are less likely to be aware of any trouble they cause. Being in ones own tourist bubble is a normal thing for tourists, and is often encouraged (everyone has the incentive for tourists to enjoy themselves and spend money), and it is often difficult for tourists to interact with locals in any meaningful manner (especially given that in a poor country a tourist is often relatively a millionaire, and often in tourist areas).

I am sure Cuba has changed, but I am also sure that the same authoritarian structures are still in place.

Overall, Cuba was the worst country I have ever been to for a feeling of hopeless authoritarianism. As a tourist I felt mostly untouchable, but the grind of the people living there was horrific (warning, politics: I do blame the US blockade for a large part of that, especially because I think it helped Castro stay in power). I have other friends that loved travelling there, so YMMV.

There's a guy on YouTube who recently captured what you've described. His channel is named 'bald and bankrupt'. It was a fascinating look into Cuba. He's also toured many of the old Soviet states too.

> I think normal salary was USD5 per week, so they would have taken ages to pay it.

Pretty sure they would have made that money and more with just one foreign client for whom they were the scene

AFAIK you could go to jail for having tourist money or USD if you did not have an official reason for having it (or it probably would get “confiscated” by police if they found it).

That said, virtually anyone you met in Havana would be after something from you, even if just a drink. It seemed cultural, far beyond the normal percentage of hucksters a tourist might expect to find in a tourist area of a foreign country.

They were sometimes after money, but were taking risks of jail to get it (due to desperation). Hard to blame them when my disposable income might easily be more than 1000 times more than theirs. What I casually spend on a night out at home might be a year or more of savings for them.

I do try to be generous, especially in poor countries since it is easy to do so (I absolutely loath tourists bargaining over a few dollars when they are effectively millionaires in a locality, often bargaining with someone who really needs the income to feed their family). You soon learn to recognise when a person is truely desperate, versus locally very well off from tourist income.

> AFAIK you could go to jail for having tourist money or USD if you did not have an official reason for having it (or it probably would get “confiscated” by police if they found it).

That's the theory, in practice see the article.

One thing to know is that owners of private houses with tourist guestrooms will make you huge portions so that their family can eat some yummy CUC food, even if they are leftovers, rather than the state rations. So it's absolutely not bad manners to finish everything!

I got a source. My ex-Gf who was scrambling to get her brother to contact a family friend to make sure she didn’t get on a government list for being caught with me. The police stoped us when she was on the back of my scooter.

Well, a bit of hyperbole I guess. The police actually arrest anyone that opposes the regime too vigorously on such grounds as them being “antisocial” or “dangerous.”[1]

With the current diplomatic relationship between the USA and Cuba, hanging around Americans too much is likely cause for suspicion.

I imagine fraternizing with Maduro-Venezuelans is not cause for concern, nor Chinese. Not sure about North Koreans, I'd hope that North Koreans are always cause for concern for any secret service.


> most of the island is mired in poverty

the elephant in the room is the 60 year old embargo and its third-rail effect on American politics.

They can trade with the rest of the world, right?

It's an exclusive-or. You can trade with Cuba, and other companies that trade with Cuba, or you can trade with the US, and other companies that trade with the US.

Basically the United States will attempt to seriously penalize companies which trade with Cuba, though considering that large hotel chains like Melia can fully operate them and seemingly not face consequences, there must be some good workarounds or corporate firewalling...

Not exactly. Theres restrictions and penalties also for companies which trades with them and even for ships. They also cant use dollars in the trade.

I think the embargo extends to other WTO members.

May not right

The actual elephant in the room is 60 years of brutal communist dictatorship.

"elephant in the room" refers to something that is huge but that nobody talks about. Everyone agrees with the fact that marxism doesn't work, and everyone talks about it, so I don't think we can call it an elephant in the room. there is far less discussion (especially in the US), about the impact of the US sanctions

the same discussion applies to venezuela

I was referring to the recent trend of blaming USA for Cuban poverty. Characterizing it as "elephant in the room" is somewhat en vogue for leftist types. And I was turning it back on them. The real "elephant in the room" is the failings of the brutal communist ideology that failed the Cuban people in nearly every possible way.

Good old times of right wing dictatorship, when cuban dictator was USA friendly. No embargo. Nobody cared.

wonder why you're being downvoted, The American ambassador literally presented Batista with a golden telephone (that's where the symbol comes from) as a reward for having essentially sold the country out to a few chosen American companies (in this case the telecom industry)

Not true, US had a weapons embargo against the Batista regime in 1958, this helped Castro to oust Batista.

yep. Everyone here crying out "dictatorship" apparently has never heard of Fulgencio Batista.


I mean, the US embargo is a big cause of why they're poor. But the dictatorship is the cause of that embargo.

If Cuba could trade freely with the US, their economy would be better. If Cuba were under a more free government, their economy would be better: also, they wouldn't be under a US embargo, and their economy would be even better.

Whether an ideological stance is worth the economic collateral damage is a value judgement.

But you can't say the embargo is not causal of Cuban poverty.

> But the dictatorship is the cause of that embargo.

Well, the political ideology of the dictatorship and its unwillingness to be a puppet state of the USA are the cause of that embargo. As diplomacy in the Arabian peninsula shows, the USA has no issue with dictatorships and hereditary absolute monarchies provided they buy American weapons and fight on the appropriate side of proxy wars.

The united states doesn't need to enforce a trade embargo. Cuba's government does not control the united states.

Poor people all over the Caribbean living in all the destitution described here and then some

Many Cubans acknowledge that both pieces have resulted in the misery of regular people. They're not at all naive about their government or the US's policies towards them.

Guy who decries dictatorship just asks other people to shut up, very consistent.

And strict regulation of the economy along Marxist lines, which we know doesn’t work from the multitude of other failures.

The brutal communist dictatorship that the embargo has helped to further entrench. Simple fact is, all these years later, both exist.

The communists don't believe in world commerce, why an embargo will affect them after all if they don't want people to trade or have private property?

It's a pretty elastic word these days, especially given China. And of course they do want overseas trade. The US embargo of using the power of the state to make it as difficult as possible for even non-US companies to trade with Cuba is hardly a pro-freedom one.

So far as I can tell it's this way because 95% of the US doesn't care one way or the other but there are Cuban exiles in Florida who care a lot about punishing Castro, and they're good at voting.

That's a proof their system was a lie. Che Guevara gave an speech about how Cuba would thrive without global trading, without private property. Well, the results speak for themselves. No communist regime could survive with its own production. It seems i triggered some communism fans.

The 'Elephant in the Room' is 100% Fidel Castro Inc. and his militarized island empire, and totalitarian suppression of everything and everyone.

A more extreme but reasonable comparable would be North Korea.

List of dictatorships [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regimes

Maybe there are two elephants in this room?

The dictatorial regimes in Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan are not facing the same problems.

Nor the hideous racist regime in Israel.

Castro and I would not get along, I am a dissident by nature, so I cannot bring myself to support his regime. But we cannot blame the economic failures on Castro, now dead, RIP.

The Cubans have done well to survive more or less intact for this long in the face of the sanctions.

It is my belief, some one here may know better, that it was the sanctions that pushed Fidel into the Soviet camp in the first place. He was a nationalist, not really a communist to begin with.

Whatever he would still have been a hideous dictator like most of the surrounding countries.

Castro Inc. is the source of the problem in Cuba.

To look anywhere else really is to legitimize his corruption.

The fact is Saudi has Oil, meaning they can keep their population fed, also, their version of 'totalitarian' is cultural, not ideological. They've had similar rules for 1200 years. If it were not House of Saud it would be House of X, same thing.

And Israel is racist? But not the surrounding regimes who want to wipe them off the face of the planet, and have tried to do so on a few occasions?

Yes you absolutely can blame Castro and his hypocritical, corrupt, fanatical insistence on Marxist Leninist economic central planning and state control for the misery and poverty of Cuba. Castro ruled for decades, Cuba is only now slowly leaving his shadow. The U.S embargo was a disaster and a very stupid policy with some blame for Cuba's miseries but the majority of their ruin is very much their dictatorship's doing. I'm sorry, but to avoid this blatant causal relationship, shared by many other countries that never fell under major U.S sanctions but which did apply Marxist central planning, is to avoid the extremely obvious.

It is not the dictatorship, it's the economic system they're into. But people still believes communism makes countries thrive into wealth and freedom. They never give any example of successful communist country.

These buses are called Guagua. There's a simple reason why [0].

[0]: https://www.thecubanhistory.com/2016/09/origin-of-the-cuban-...

Everywhere in the developing world is like that, regardless of the currency situation. When I was in El Salvador, a man that was probably close to 70 years old offered to pedal me on his bicycle to the hostel for the equivalent of 50 cents. I only wanted to know the direction.

I wonder if 100+ millionaires think this as they walk around downtown anywhere in the US.

Most of central america and the caribbean is like this, from my experience. I'm not convinced that it has to do with the two separate currencies.


this is an extremely bad take.


Uh there was this little thing called the Mogul Empire you might have heard of, that tended to frown upon sati.

Seriously have you ever even met someone from Central America.

This is one of the dumbest comments I’ve seen on this site. It’s been 500 years. 500 years ago, the catholic church was burning people at the stake for heresy and vlad tepes was impaling peasants.

I’ve spent a lot of time living with the Maya people in Guatemala. I was raised Irish catholic and they’re more catholic than my family is for sure.

The Maya human sacrifices were probably even longer ago than that.

Also, what do the Maya and Aztec atrocities have to do with Cuba and the Caribbean? The Taíno who inhabited Cuba were an Arawakan people — as far as we know totally unrelated to the Aztec and the Maya, who lived 1500 km away. This is like saying that the Lithuanians were a brutal culture because the Romans (about the same distance away) sacrificed Christians to the lions.

Yep, the Aztec might have been brutal, but its hardly like the Spanish were any less so, and for similar religion fueled reasons even.

The Spanish were, as far as we can tell, dramatically more brutal.

Not at all [1][2][3]. Why do you think the surrounding tributary city-states allied with the Spanish? Though human sacrifice was common in Mesoamerica at the time, under the Aztecs it took place at an unprecedented scale.

I'm curious, though, about why you'd make such an implausible claim without backing it up with any evidence.

[1] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/06/feeding-gods-hundred...

[2] https://www.history.com/news/aztec-human-sacrifice-religion

[3] https://www.ancient.eu/Aztec_Sacrifice/

Than the Aztecs who used human skulls as construction material?

Yes, by orders of magnitude. The Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people; the Spanish sacrificed millions.

> the Spanish sacrificed millions.


Why not trillions?

While it's true they killed a lot, like most empires 5 centuries ago, they weren't as bad as the others.

Hernan Cortes defeated the whole Aztek Empire with 600 men. How? Easy, he had multiple tribes helping him because almost everyone of them wanted the azteks gone. That means they waged war against natives and they won. It has nothing to do with sacrifices.

From a total population of around 45 million, around 95% of them died smallpox and other deadly viruses.

Cortes even married an indigenous woman and had children with her just as a lot of other conquistadores did. The Catholic Kings legalized and promoted mixed marriages almost 500 years before it was legal in the US. That's why from Argetina to Mexico you can find millions of natives, millions of mixed people and millions of europeans.

The Spanish would have been quickly squashed all the way to the sea were it not for essentially every other native group allying with them against the Aztecs because of the brutal treatment they suffered since the rise of the Aztecs.

Once the Spanish had a foothold, European diseases did most of the killing.

Hernan Cortes had around 600 men. They had no chance against an empire like the Aztec. Fortunately for him other tribes wanted to see the tyrannical Aztecs gone.

Some people think he arrived there with laser rifles and nuclear bombs to wipe out and entire empire.

The propaganda around this is strong I guess.

The US had an official dual currency from 1914 to 1933. There were gold dollars, and fiat (inflated) dollars. There was an official, fixed exchange rate between the two. The two started out at parity in 1914, but things diverged steadily until in 1929 a gold dollar was worth 85% more than a fiat dollar.

Like all such systems where the relative values float but there's an official exchange rate, this eventually collapses with runs on the banks, as people try to profit by buying the higher valued currency at the discount guaranteed by the exchange rate.

This persisted until Roosevelt suspended all those exchanges. Then we had a fiction of a gold exchange rate until Nixon finally dispensed with it.

We have a dual currency today - when you pay a "convenience fee" for using a credit card instead of check or cash, that's what is going on (as the credit card taker gets charged 3% for those transactions, and passes it on to the credit card user).

> We have a dual currency today - when you pay a "convenience fee" for using a credit card instead of check or cash, that's what is going on (as the credit card taker gets charged 3% for those transactions, and passes it on to the credit card user).

Barring a few gas stations that give a cash discount, that's very much not the way it works. It's the cash users getting screwed; they pay the same price as credit card users, but they don't get the rewards you'd get as a credit card user (I get 2-5% cash back on virtually any purchase, for example).

Oh, many times I've seen the same price for cash or credit, asked for a "discount for cash", and got it.

The times they won't give a discount, I pay with the credit card and get the "cash back".

The proprietor, though, will nearly always give a discount for cash, because it's money ahead for him.

That may be an attribution error.


> Producer Ben Calhoun tells Ira about a secret move his friend uses all the time — the "good guy discount" — that gets Ben's friend money off all sorts of items when he's shopping. (6 minutes)

More often than not, if you ask someone with the power to give one for a discount - for any polite reason - there's a decent chance they'll do it.

You might be right. A cash discount should be 1-3%. But I've often gotten 10% off just by asking. Even at department stores like Macy's.

The name for this effect where people try to hoard the more valuable currency is Gresham's law: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gresham%27s_law

Went to Cuba with my girl. (She really wanted to go; I was the skeptic.) Walking around the ruins of the Centrum, and someone invites her in to get a haircut. Sure, she says, why not? $5 (convertible), but all we had on hand was a $20.

Little Cuban girl heads out running through the neighborhood to scrounge up change for a $20 because that’s almost a month’s salary.

Similar situation, although not as intense.

I bought a skewer of grilled meat from a poor elderly woman in central Colombia. The skewer was 5,000 COP and all I had was a 50,000 note (which I discovered when the food was ready) which is about a day’s wage.

She had to leave the grill and go out in the search for change. Felt terrible.

God forbid either of you let them keep the change

Random over-generosity is not a particularly effective charity pattern. If you feel that Hacker News denizens like ourselves happen to have too much money, there are a variety of organizations which can transmit sums of money to those in need: not just a one-time $15 at random with a special tax diverted to prop up the Cuban government, but on a recurring basis, every month, as part of a program to help eliminate worldwide poverty in a targeted manner, and sensitive to the dislocations that can come about as a result of carelessly deployed aid.

I use WorldVision to do this, personally (some of their non-evangelizing programs) as I appreciate their efficient organization, but there are other ones out there too. I can supply links to https://www.worldvision.org/donate and suggest interested parties consider a $40/mo sponsorship of a child's health and education at https://www.worldvision.org/sponsor-a-child

Who cares if it’s an effective form of charity. It’s nothing for you and a big deal for that person. Not everything needs to be minimaxed to death. Same deal with haggling in the developing world. It’s just a gross thing to do when there is a big wealth inequality.

> Same deal with haggling in the developing world.

This bugs me too. I’m from a developing world but have a well paying job thanks to IT. It’s quite funny seeing colleagues haggle with auto rickshaw (three wheeled taxis) for 10Rs ($0.12) but part with 200Rs at Starbucks for a coffee without batting an eyelid.

Not that I wasn’t like this before, but once the severity of income inequality hit me I stopped doing such pity things. It’s not that I’m doing it out of charity but rather the whole situation reeks of injustice so it’s my way of respecting their dignity of labor.

On the haggling part, there are places where it's culturally insensitive not to haggle. I find that super irritating as a person who does not enjoy playing the game.

I live in Venezuela (which is Cuba lite) but earn a foreign salary.

"It’s nothing for you" compromised around half of my expenses before I started budgeting.

I hate forced charity.

@danlugo92 never disclose your income to anyone. This goes for anyone who earns a foreign salary in any country

.. especially considering the conditions which allow the heinous income equality situation in Cuba, in the first place, are directly related to American's continued ignorance of their military industrial complex' threats against 'lesser cultures' .. and/or complacency/complicity in the equation.

With respect, sir, my anecdote is rather being minmaxed to death, and there’s no need for you to do that either, as it is well in the past.

Are you trying to adjust my attitude or something? Lay off, chill out.

but it's also what creates the expectation that visitors have a lot of money and it attracts the wrong kind of people. they do not know that the money you give them is nothing for you.

besides, $15 isn't exactly nothing for me either. i would quickly blow my travel budget if i were that generous.

Is this also your response when someone asks you to grab them a drink since you're already up and in the kitchen?

It isn't about creating an effective charity pattern. It is the fact that these people have to now additionally go out and look all over town for an amount of change that probably isn't even worth the tourists' time spent waiting.

Have you heard of effective altruism and givewell?

If you want to maximize benefit per dollar I don't think there's a better way.

https://www.givewell.org/ https://www.effectivealtruism.org/

I actually did let her keep a portion of the change, the problem was that she had already ran off to break the note before I realised what I had done!

that's why i always make sure to have small change, so i can pay exact amounts. that doesn't stop me from giving a tip if it's warranted, and it also helps to not to get cheated where they take your money and then don't give you change.

Hilariously enough, this is just cash at its traditionally best. I got a massage during my layover in Lisbon, but their credit card machine didn't work, so I had to use the ATM, which charged me something like 4 euros (bucks) (the massage was probably 20), on top of which they didn't have the change so the masseuse had to run out to get it... Paying took almost as long as getting the massage and spoiled the whole experience...

Serious question: why didn't you just pay $20 for a haircut?

Señor, mi Español is la Español de la escuela secondaria por solo un año, y en el mundo? Nada. Y porque, mi comprehensíon de la actividad de otros, en Cuba y en otros con Español, es muy tanto. Y la niña con la dinero es muy muy rapido.

Bastante justa.

And as a tourist, you’d always get change back in the wrong currency (worth 1/25 the original). And to make matters worse, the change will also be wrong in their favour. Hated being assumed that I’m a dumb foreigner.

> Hated being assumed that I’m a dumb foreigner.

I believe they assumed you were not dumb, but that you were willing. That's what I told myself, at least.

And since the prices were about about half of what I would pay at home, I was totally OK with that.

Some markets are only open to foreign currency, and if that currency is worth 25x more to someone else than it is to me, and they're selling a product to me at what feels like a 50% discount, then I am a willing participant in that economy!

It's not something to take personally. Having those 2 economical systems running in parallel creates a big split, some things being available only in tourist shops. People have to find ways to access some goods, some will take a scammy route. At some point though I found it quite good to get outside of the touristic areas to get a break from people wanting to sell you something, but other than that i didn't find it that annoying.

I did not experience that once on 3 trips to Cuba, all different parts.

Hmm, are you American?

As a Venezuelan, it is interesting to see how the Castro's used the CUC to save face from the defacto dollarization they had.

Also, it's interesting to see the parallels with the Petro. I'm thankful that it mostly failed, minus some money laundering by the government and pensions (this is Maquiavelian, they pay part of the pension and bonuses in a controlled electronic currency to elderly people who mostly don't have access to the internet and maybe even electricity, but good for propaganda). From the last quarter of 2018 we went from talking about dollars being illegal to a heavy push towards defacto dollarization where a lot of party and army people opened bodegones (mostly imported good stores, they pay 0% taxes by presidential decree) where they mainly accept USD (sometimes EUR) and sometimes Bolívares (the official currency). The government tried to push the Petro to them, but failed to convince even it's own people who want hard currency and not useless monopoly money. And now even some state run stuff is marking prices in USD (some elite government places stopped accepting Bolívares)

As I'm reading through this I'm fascinated about the character's "write russian articles for Bitcoin gig". Perhaps internet infrastructure isn't that good yet in Cuba, but with Starlink and other LEO internet projects underway, that might change in the medium term.

Once basic ingredients are there, we might see an explosion of, for lack of a better term... "digital sweatshops". Things like data annotation / game grinding / SocMed content moderation etc.

Starlink’s first version will require ground relay stations within the overlapping spot beams (the inter-spacecraft relay lasers aren’t until later) and also likely intends to comply with local laws in all places it is offered for sale.

I had high hopes here too, initially.

I think they have outright said that they will only operate through local resellers and local ground stations, so all laws will need to be complied with. Even then I think US-hostile nations would ban starlink on suspicious of eavesdropping, or simply because they don't want everyone connected to the internet.

What about resellers on a boat? You can set up the business in Panama, sign the the Starlink contract, dock in Havana and just share your wifi password.

Good luck with that. If local government don't want you, I bet you'll end up in jail and your fancy boat in the country's dictator collection.

I suspect Starlink modems upload their coordinates. The modem would also need to know its correct GPS location to operate, they mechanically orientate themselves, so faking a GPS signal would not be enough. You would need to modify the firmware.

And even if this was possible, I am sure the Cuban government would not be happy with you providing ISP services at the local dock.

I am sure there are alphabet soup agencies that will get "unlocked" starlinks, but the rest of us will need a local groundstation.

China also has dual currency CNY-CNH system.


China used to have a similar system with Foreign Exchange Certificates until the 1990s [1] but nowadays it's not really the same. CNH/CNT/NDFs are an artefact of foreign-exchange controls but as a visitor to China you're unlikely to even know they exist.

1. https://www.china-briefing.com/news/15-years-in-china-foreig...

That's not really the same as you don't really spend CNH except use it to exchange currencies outside of China. That is, non of the locals or expats in China spend CNH - and their value is almost exactly the same because there is not an oversupply of either and both is anchored on the massive USD reserve China has.

Not that arcane. Tons of places have a de-facto dual-currency system... (any country with big inflation, for one)

The situation with Cuba is where I find myself widely differing with the viewpoints of my American colleagues - I just cannot see any justification for the way that the USA treats Cuba. It is inhumane and un-just, and I think Americans suffer more for having to live in a repressive system that does not have their best interests at heart. What does the American people get out of the restrictions placed on Cuba by their government, other than cheap sex tourism and a medical haven not offered within their own borders?

I really have to wonder if we'll ever see relations normalised .. so many problems in the world, if only Americans would change their state policies, quit arguing about scary orange puppets, and start paying attention to exactly who is running the CFR ...

Reminiscent of Argentina's Blue Dollar, the real exchange rate between the peso and the US dollar and usually very different from the official rate.

I thought the Blue Dollar was mostly phased out when they let the peso float at the end of 2015?

I did too, but reading recent news reports, it still exists.[1] I presume that the spread grows when the country is in times of crisis (inb4 "When is Argentina ever not in crisis?"), such as the recent default.

[1] https://www.explica.co/dollar-today-the-blue-dollar-rises-to...

The currency restrictions were reinstated at the end of 2019.

>"She discovered that she can use bitcoin to top up people’s phones on bitrefill.com, and she can charge for this. For every 100 dollars she receives in bitcoin, she gets 120 CUC in cash from her friends whose phones she tops up. Ira is quite pleased that she has found to a way to arbitrage the currency exchange. If she got paid via Western Union, she’d lose 15% of what the agency pays her. This way, she makes 20%."

Amazing, because modern economic theory states that arbitrages should not exist, and if they do (for whatever quirky reason), then they will disappear just as quickly as they appeared...

This is what the Soviet Union had, except, of course, all prices were quoted in "internal" rubles. The dollar was always 70 "foreign" kopecks, but you couldn't get dollars, or convertible rubles unless you were a party apparatchik who could shop in "Beryozka": a network of stores that sold Western goods to those who imposed socialism on others, but did not live in it themselves, which it how it usually works. Foreign currency was illegal, and you'd land in prison if you had it.


A similar system existed in Soviet occupied East Germany, the oxymorinically named ‘German Democratic Republic’, or GDR (DDR in German).

The chain of stores was named “Intershop” (later famously adopted by the first German online shopping software provider). There, western goods were available for cold hard West German Mark’s, sent from relatives on the other side of the iron curtain, as many families had been separated when the wall went up.

Edit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intershop

>to those who imposed socialism on others, but did not live in it themselves

I'll violate the rule but I'll comment you were probably downvoted because of this part of your comment.

It would be... unfortunate... if the truth leads to downvotes. If it is really the case that people downvoted for that reason I would really like to know the reason why as it would indicate either a failure of their history teachers or an ideological stance.

Because its an irrelavent inflamatory political dig. How true it is is beside the point.

As an example with a different context, if someone was talking about the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to eliminate malaria, and then in the middle randomly added a dig about how MS had mean bussiness practises in the 90s, i would also downvote them, regardless of how true that might be.

It's not irrelevant. Dual classes of citizenry will give you two types of currency.

Almost all societies have multiple classes of citizens. Significantly less have multiple currencies.

I don’t really see why though? I’m a socialist (the Scandinavian kind), but that seems a petty good description of what happened back then.

> socialist (the Scandinavian kind)

Surely there exists better terminology for this than a highly regionally contextual qualifier. Perhaps democratic socialist, or social democrat, or something involving welfare? Overloading the word with other meanings just adds fuel to the fire of inaccuracy and hyperbole in political discourse, perhaps recently most often in the US.

That is not overloading, rather you are the one who is using the term overly specifically. Maybe it would be better to say Leninism or something.

That's a fair point actually, thanks.

I think the word you wanted to describe the USSR was "communist", there west is full of countries with socialist social welfare systems that genuinely care for their citizens

Yep, I replied to the other comment but I'll concede that I was using this term too specifically and inaccurately.

In any case, my point wasn't in opposition to the social welfare systems in Scandinavian countries, for instance, as I'm at least reasonably familiar with the services they provide to citizens which generally seem to genuinely work as you said.

I totally agree with you, but it is not useful when talking in the US today. Socialist/socialism means communist here and is mostly just a swear word. The distinction between capitalist socialism and authoritarian communism is often ignored although the systems really have nothing in common.

because what the fuck do two department stores have to do with state owned means of production? somehow anything that's the slightest bit off shows that sOcialISm iS eViL but the same kind of bad faith reading of any of the structures of capitalism is explicitly forbidden.

He is just stating it matter-of-fact, since they could use USD to purchase things at a (free) market price.

do you know what socialism means? also what he/she claims isn't in fact true. one of the two chains did allow normal people to shop there

>One chain belonged to the Vneshposyltorg (Foreign Mail Order Trade) and was intended for Soviet citizens who received some income in foreign currency. Some of them were forced to sell their currency for ruble-denominated Vneshposyltorg checks, while others never laid their hands on foreign currency, receiving their pay from Western sources in Vneshposyltorg checks via Soviet intermediaries (which, again, allowed the foreign currency to stay in Soviet government hands). The checks were to be used to purchase goods in the Vneshposyltorg Beriozkas.

but like i said feel free to keep perpetuating these bad faith interpretations

I grew up in the Soviet Union though. As they say in Russia, "не учи отца ебаться".

My parents have never been inside a Beriozka, nor any of my relatives. Shopping there presented an economic impossibility: you either had to have foreign currency (outright illegal for Soviet citizens, with severe punishment for possession, so that meant you'd be a foreigner) or convertible rubles ("invalutny ruble", not illegal, but impossible for a regular Ivan to acquire due to the aforementioned illegality of foreign currency). 99.999% of soviet citizens _did not_ receive income in "foreign currency", and by definition "invalutny ruble" could only be bought with foreign currency. Or just handed out to a party apparatchik through other mechanisms. Those folks weren't suffering at all, best everyone else could tell.


Out of curiosity, ребята, three questions about Иван Васильевич меняет профессию: (a) which currency would Shurik have used when buying transistors (~45 minutes)? I'm assuming he would've used regular rubles if he'd managed to find them in a shop, but since he was buying from a dubious looking source (Бери шинель?) would he have needed other currency? (b) when Иван Грозный discovers the elevator (~24 minutes), is his sign of the cross period, or anachronistic? (c) as for the pen Милославский gives to the ambassador (~1 hour) ... were those available for rubles?

Haven't watched it in decades, so thanks for time references. The currency question is easy: in the USSR there was nothing other than Soviet Rubles. There was no other currency, dubious source or not, especially for a ботаник from a НИИ like Shurik. The thief scene here (https://youtu.be/a50qT9bW2Qo?t=856) shows what I assume are government bonds, not currency. My parents never had those and I've never seen them in person. Showing any kind of illegal currency manipulation was out of the question in a movie like this.

Sign of the blessing cross does not look too authentic to me, but orthodox blessing _is_ given with three closed fingers IIRC (I'm not a person of faith myself), to signify Trinity, as far as I understand.

The pen was likely brought from abroad, as were some other stolen items. Soviet government would not allow such a frivolity to be manufactured.

You're right; they're bonds. compare https://assets.bwbx.io/images/users/iqjWHBFdfxIU/iXcD4yjnYag... Шпак богач...

Мерси боку !

i grew up in the soviet union too. даже если мы согласны с тем что коммунизм не был идеальным это не значит что берёзки доказывают это. so my point still stands.

When were you born? What decade?

The most strenuous, impassioned diatribes against the Soviet system come from older people, and from the non-Russian satellite soviet states.

I was born in the 80s in Moldova. Other guy in here is much younger than me.

> коммунизм не был идеальным (communism wasn't ideal)

Understatement of the century, quite literally.

bruh. is the RF better or worse now? how are those term limits working out for you? was the west better or worse during the years 1932-33 during the famine (the same years that the US hit peak unemployment)? were the pogroms and the gulag better or worse than jim crow and segregation and racism? was state owned means of production better or worse than the gilded age?

like you're sitting here glibly dismissing something that's more nuanced than either yours or my hottake. what are you trying to accomplish?

edit: also how come you translated mine but not yours? and also why didn't you translate all the way?

>даже если мы согласны с тем что коммунизм не был идеальным это не значит что берёзки доказывают это

translation: even if we agree that communism wasn't ideal that doesn't mean beriozkas prove it.

There is a pretty simple test one can use to figure out which way to run a country is actually preferred by people:

Some countries put border with barb wires, walls, armed guards, etc. to keep people out. Other countries did that to keep people in.

That's not relevant to my argument. You could have pointed out to many other bad things done by the US, or the West.

The fact remains that migration flows tell us where people actually want to live.

I'd guarantee that people in the depression in the USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Argentina were better off than Russians up to around 50s.

Hell, Australia in the 1890s was richer than most of the world in the 1950s

State owned production and distribution. The things these markets sold were (most likely) not state produced or distributed, since they were Western goods.

>The things these markets sold were (most likely) not state produced or distributed, since they were Western goods.

wonderful! so then you must understand why these stores were orthogonal to communism right?

Google's definition of socialism

"a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole."

Private enterprise isn't the community. I'll admit that the state isn't the only way these things can organize, but it is probably the most common (excluding groups like the Mennonites)

If only I could upvote this multiple times.

> those who imposed socialism on others, but did not live in it themselves

I wouldn't be able to describe it any better way than this.

Can't our current economic system be described as rule by those who impose dog-eat-dog capitalism on others, but do not live in it themselves?

I think the common factor is that elites always find a way to insulate themselves from the problems of the plebs, including the ones that they have created.

I suppose you could. The difference is, you can't find yourself in a labor camp in Siberia for the crime of having some foreign currency on you.

But you find yourself in jail if you’re blacker. Really, whats the point of these comparisons? Bad things are bad things no matter what economic system the said country uses

No, just for doing business with an embargoed country. There's a few other differences too, but why are we changing the subject? This subthread was after all, talking about elite hypocrisy.

Sounds like you've never lived a day of Cuban/Russian/Venezuelan communism in your life

Seriously, the fact that this informative comment is downvoted for no good reason shows how toxic HN has become. It seems that many have become so bitter during lockdown that they either randomly downvote whatever they see or they leave comments that trigger downvotes from others.

North Korea actually has 3 versions of their currency: one for North Koreans, one for “socialist” visitors, and one for “capitalist” visitors. They’re distinguished by having either 0, 1, or 2 stars on the coins, or different color seals on the notes. I don’t know how this has affected the economy of North Korea, but it sure is interesting.


Ah, I live in the UK and it is still fairly common to hear people enviously tell you how successful Cuba is (this is people of a certain age, the same people usually think China was a great success under Mao because much of the Cultural Revolution didn't become apparent until the 90s)...people are weird.

Isn't 10k with a 15-20% premium 11.5-12k?

Bitcoin trades at a 15–20% premium (e.g. if the Bitcoin spot price is 10k USD, Cubans will pay 15k–20k CUC for it).

Communism tends to create these patterns. It was the same in pre-1989 Poland. Owning USD was illegal, you were supposed to turn them to authorities and get "Polish issued USD" instead. It was a separate kind of currency different from the regular (worthless) Polish currency. But the official exchange rate was order of magnitude worse than the real USD-Polish złoty exchange rate, so nobody did that if they could avoid it.

There were special shops "Pewex" that had all the foreign goods and the best Polish export products - you could only buy that stuff there for Polish USD. It was a way for the state to extract hard currencies from the population.

There was a whole class of people that exchanged USD to Polish currency on the black market (with the real exchange rate). They were called cink-ciarz because they stood in touristy places and whispered "ex-change" in broken English to tourists. It sounded like cink-ciarz to Poles. Lots of fortunes were made that way, and people were in prison because of that.


They can ban it and censor internet, similar to how currently more internet developed nations like India and Pakistan have. Currently bitcoin is illegal there and even banks are in on it.

Correction: India unbanned in in March 2020, however some nations do still keep it banned particularly other middle eastern countries and some latin ones. Full list here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legality_of_bitcoin_by_country...

My question is who will fight the law and be the ones to take the risk of going to jail in order to save a few bucks when inflation happens so slowly you don't have time to react?

From what i've gathered, there isn't much internet infrastructure throughout the majority of Cuba.

It's significantly better than it used to be even in the relatively recent past. Data-capable cell connections are ubiquitous throughout Havana, although you have to be fairly well off to be able to afford a plan that can use them. Wifi connectivity is more widely available, and there's tons of parks where there's official government wifi signals available (you have to buy a card for time).

It doesn't even begin to approach the connectivity of the U.S., but the internet isn't a totally foreign concept. (I can only speak for Havana though, no idea what's it like outside of the cities)

Quote (end of article): "The question is: can Cuba avoid this, and if not, will Cubans stoically accept another Special Period?"

1 - No.

2 - Hopefully not, and hopefully they'll finally get rid of Communism.

Good lord, look at the size of those pictures.

As an American, this doesn't seem any stranger than our dual-units-of-measure system. One is defined in terms of the other. One is what we (mostly) use locally, and the other is what we use with anyone from any other country in the world. People living here know from experience and context which system is implicitly attached to a bare number.

They are in no way equivalent. Countries generally do not modify the conversion between metric and imperial for the purpose of obfuscating measurements of things,

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