Summer Vacations in Cuba
Summer Vacations in Cuba / Ivan Garcia
Posted on September 3, 2014
Raudel and his family have already packed their bags for a six-night
stay at a campsite in Mayabeque province near Havana.
They saved some of the money their relatives in Miami send them every
month and rented an air-conditioned cabin in Los Cocos along the north
shore of Havana.
“It costs us 106 CUC with breakfast. We bring our own food to save
money. It’s the best option we could find given our budget,” says Raudel.
Depending on the currency and how much of it you have, there are a
variety of vacation options available in Cuba this summer. Having
convertible pesos (CUC) — popularly known as chavitos and used by the
state to pay monthly bonuses of 10 to 35 CUC to employees in key
economic sectors such as tourism, telecommunications and civil aviation
— certainly makes a difference.
Others ways of obtaining chavitos include operating a small private
business or receiving dollars, euros or other forms of hard currency
from relatives overseas.
There is also a faction of corrupt bureaucrats and white-collar
swindlers on the island who are experts at looting the public coffers.
They carry red Communist Party membership cards in their wallets and
parrot the harangues of the regime but use financial strategies to
embezzle money, food and commodities.
Hugo (a pseudonym) is one of them. He works in a state grocery store and
over the course of eighteen years has been careful to cover his tracks.
He does not blow thousands of dollars on a quinceniera party or dine at
“I fly under the radar,” says Hugo. “There are three types of criminals
in Cuba: the thieves who steal from people, the administrators who steal
from the state and the consumer, and the high-level officials who
through business dealings and illegal activity get hold of anywhere from
hundreds of thousands of dollars to a couple of million. The closer they
are to the seat of power, the faster the banknotes and the perks pile
up. A government minister might spend two weeks at a Varadero resort
without paying one cent. His position gives him access to food baskets,
a cell phone and a free internet account. These people are the upper
class. We — the directors, administrators and business managers — are
the middle class,” he says with a straight face.
If you establish good relationships with people in power and are adept
at not getting caught, it’s smooth sailing.
“It never pays to show off. But if you know how to walk a tightrope, you
can buy a car, a house or a holiday in Cayo Coco or Varadero,” says Hugo.
Much more common are families like Ruben’s, who works eight hours in an
office and whose vacations are always more of the same. “A lot of
television, a little beach time, dominoes and cheap rum with
neighborhood friends,” he says as he cools off in front of a Chinese
The military is probably the most privileged caste in Cuba. Joel (a
pseudonym) is an official at the Ministry of the Interior. Every year he
rents a cabin at a military villa. “I never spend more than a thousand
pesos (40 dollars).”
In addition to having their Suzuki motorcycles and mobile phones
provided by the state, the security agents who harass dissidents are
able to buy clothes and food at modest prices and summer in
military-owned villas scattered throughout the island.
While officials like Joel enjoy nice vacations, primary school teacher
Elisa looks forward to payday so she can afford the 60 pesos it costs
for two seats on the bus to take her eight-year-old daughter to the
beach east of the capital.
“Every year a guy who works at a state-owned enterprise gets a bus so
those of us from the neighborhood can go to the beach or the aquarium.
It costs 30 pesos a person,” notes Elisa. “Teachers are essential to any
society but in Cuba educators earn poverty-level wages and we cannot
afford to rent a house on the beach or stay in a hotel.”
The problem with summer vacations in Cuba is not a lack of options. It
is an issue of hierarchy, influence and hard currency.
16 August 2014
Source: Summer Vacations in Cuba / Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba –