How a Havana Couple Lives on Cuban Pesos
How a Havana Couple Lives on Cuban Pesos / Ivan Garcia
Posted on February 6, 2016
Ivan Garcia, 26 January 2016 — In the large commercial centers of
Havana, whether Carlos III, Galerias Paseo or the at Avenida Boyeros and
Camagüey Street, you will not find families like Yesenia and Sergio.
In these ’shoppings’ or hard currency stores, a no-name plasma TV costs
399 CUC, or 10,000 Cuban pesos at the exchange rate of one Convertible
peso (CUC) for twenty Cuban pesos (CUP). A juicer costs 219 CUC, or
5,475 Cuban pesos, and a food processor 118 CUC, which is 2,900 Cuban
pesos in the devalued national currency.
Between them, Yesenia and Sergio earn 1,800 Cuban pesos a month, about
43 CUC. That amount of money does not allow them to buy modern
appliances or a third generation computer. They can’t even sit in a
state-run bar and have a beer together.
Six years ago they married, and in 2015 she gave birth to a boy, now
about to celebrate his first birthday. This is not about two lazy people
subsidized by the State, or people with no skills.
Sergio is a civil engineer and Yesenia graduated in art history. They
live in a two-bedroom apartment in La Vibora neighborhood, in the
southern part of Havana. At their respective jobs, neither has resorted
to “inventing” (that is stealing State resources). Nor do they have
family in Miami sending them 100 dollars every month.
How do they manage to make ends meet? Let’s look at this couple’s daily
Sergio gets paid on the 10th and Yesenia on the 22nd. Meanwhile, on the
national television news the presenters describe in detail statistics
and production figures for an economy that never stops growing, but the
couple doesn’t even notice. They are two busy doing their accounts on a
“We have a budget of 250 Cuban pesos a week. And 80 pesos for
incidentals. We pay 60-80 pesos a month for electricity. The home
appliances we have are a Chinese-made Panda TV (ancient, with cathode
tubes), two fans, a fridge, blender, rice cooker, iron and an old
Russian washing machine,” says Sergio.
He explains that to save electricity, “we only use the rice cooker once
a day — it uses a lot of electricity. I’m always at my wife not to leave
the lights on. What we use the most is the TV, because there are not
many opportunities for recreation, we are always glued to the TV.”
According to the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI),
the average monthly salary in 2014 was 584 Cuban pesos, 197 pesos more
than 2006, when it was 387. In 2015 it “grew” to 600 Cuban pesos.
But the nominal growth of government wages hasn’t kept up with the
purchasing power of this income, because prices have risen over the same
period. ONEI statistics include interesting data about the wage
distribution in Cuba.
In 8 of the 16 provinces, the workers have an average salary below the
national average: Isla de la Juventud (530), Santiago de Cuba (540),
Guantánamo (548), Artemisa (551), Mayabeque (553), Granma (565),
Camagüey (566) y Holguín (575).
The sectors with the lowest salaries are Hotels and Restaurants (377
Cuban pesos, which is why the employees steal so much), Public
Administration, Defense and Social Security (485), Culture and Sports
(486). The best salaries are in the Sugar Industry (963), Mining and
Quarrying (819), and Science and Technological Innovation (811)
Those who earn the most are paid 40 percent more than the lowest average
salary. Those depressed wages drown families like Sergio and Yesenia.
“It is impossible to live on your salary alone. The food from the ration
book only costs 35 pesos a month for three people, but with what you get
in the ’basic basket’ you can’t live, much less if you have a baby. For
fruits, vegetables, rice, chicken and pork we spend close to 900 pesos a
month. With the hundred-odd pesos left over after paying the light bill,
we have to pay for gas, water and transport. When our son is sick or
some appliance breaks, we have to dip into our reserve or the extra
money we keep in the cupboard,” says Sergio.
How can they get extra money? “I tutor elementary and high school
students in math. This way, under the table, I get about 40 chavitos
(CUC), more or less two people’s salary. This hard currency goes to
buying oil, toiletries, cereal, jam and juice for the boy. All in all we
lead a very hard life,” he confesses.
Despite living 85 miles from Varadero, they don’t know “the most
beautiful beach in the world,” according to the government’s tourism
ads. They can’t even dream of a weekend in a three-star all-inclusive hotel.
What are Yesenia and Sergio’s future plans. The couple takes some
minutes to respond.
“In Cuba the future is the next day. Clearly we want our son to grow up
healthy and well-fed, to buy him clothes, shoes and toys, to sleep in a
room with air conditioning, to get a car, visit another country, and
when we go to the Havana International Book Fair to be able to buy as
many books as we want, we are passionate readers. But right now we are
denied all this. I want to be optimistic and think that things will
change. The question is when,” says Yesenia.
Have they thought of leaving Cuba? “We don’t have family abroad, nor the
money to pay for the risky journey through Central America. We don’t
have any choice but to endure the storm on the island. For people like
us, the miracle is to be alive.”
Source: How a Havana Couple Lives on Cuban Pesos / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba –