National Geographic : 2012 Nov
' In its purest concept the CUC is used for goods and services somehow connected to for- eignness: hotel bills, international transactions, Fidel T-shirts in the souvenir shops, and so on. One CUC is worth about one U.S. dollar, and it's simple to obtain them; whether you're a yuma or a Cuban, state employees at exchange centers will take whatever currency you hand them and count out your reciprocal CUCs, wishing you a pleasant day when they're done. ese employees, like the rest of the Cubans who work for the state---currently about 80 per- cent of the country's labor force---are not paid in CUCs. ey're paid in the other currency, the Cuban national peso. One national peso is worth 1/24 of a CUC, or just over four cents, and in so- cialist Cuba state salaries are xed; the range as of mid-2012 was between about 250 and 900 pe- sos a month. Some workers now receive a CUC stimulus to augment their peso wages, and re- cent changes are li ing top-end salary limits and linking pay more to productivity than to preset increments. But it was Cubans who taught me the national comic line about public workplace philosophy: " ey pretend to pay us, while we pretend to work." , where the princi- pal attraction is a massive monument to revolu- tionary martyr Ernesto "Che" Guevara (fought with Fidel, died trying to foment insurrection in Bolivia), I spent an a ernoon with a visit- ing emergency physician whose medical salary was xed at 785.35 national pesos per month. at works out to CUC$32.72. Like so much about Cuba, this isn't straightforward; Dr. M owes nothing for his professional education and his own family's medical care. His son's lifetime schooling is free. Produce and certain other basic foods not on the family libreta can be purchased in pesos, as can Cuban books, base- ball game tickets, fares on the crowded public buses, and admission to museums and movie theaters and the ballet. e currency in which he is paid as a doctor will buy Dr. M the very kind of 1960s ascetic nationalism Che Guevara liked to espouse---in other words, as long as Señora M uses only the poor-quality peso soap, the M family brews only the peso co ee that comes with llers ground in, and nobody ever buys deodorant. " e toy truck I wanted for my son, with the little motor and remote control?" Dr. M said, as we stood side by side beneath the gigantic monument pedestal, craning our necks up at Che. "Forty CUCs." Forty CUCs in a state store, that is. Cubans maintain a robust black market---por la izquier- da, they call it, "over to the le "---in which any- thing can be obtained. But the most surrealistic aspect of life in Cuba 2012 is the vigor with which the government, the same entity paying Cubans in pesos, sells goods to Cubans in CUCs. Retail stores, like pharmaceutical factories and nickel mines, are national enterprises, run by the state. Clerks o en don't bother specifying "CUC" on the pricing of merchandise either; if a thing whirs or glitters or comes in good pack- aging, Cubans know the currency in which it is being sold, and regardless of whatever the ghost of Che may be whispering in their ear, they want it. BythetimeImetDr.M,Ihaddonesomuch confounded window-shopping that there were numbers all over my notebooks: Pepso- dent toothpaste, CUC$1.50 per tube. Electric blender, CUC$113.60. Upholstered loveseat- and-armchair living room set, CUC$597.35. ABOUT 80 PERCENT OF CUBA'S LABOR FORCE WORKS FOR THE STATE. THE WORKPLACE PHILOSOPHY THIS INSPIRES: "THEY PRETEND TO PAY US, WHILE WE PRETEND TO WORK."