National Geographic : 2012 Nov
' restaurants. Since 2011, though, they've been allowed to expand and hire sta , and like the guest rooms Cubans may rent to foreigners in- side their own homes and apartments, some of the popular paladares have basically turned into busy CUC cash registers for their owners. "I al- ways dreamed of having my own business," the co-owner, a 39-year-old named Héctor Higuera Martínez, told me the a ernoon I stopped by. "I used to think I'd be an engineer. But I saw that there was a living in working with tourists." Higuera waved a hand at somebody and in short order produced an amazing salad for me, with beautiful butter lettuce, shaved chicken, and a dusting of chocolate. He was trying to gure out how to manage the evening's mul- tiple parties of ten; dinner at Le Chansonnier, which draws foreigners and Cubans alike, runs about 40 CUCs per person. His business part- ner, Laura Fernández Córdoba, who's run the restaurant with him since they opened in fall 2011 with the help of French investors, was approving a tableware purchase in the next room. It was easy to envision money ying in and out of the building, in a New Changing Cuba sort of way, and part of what had been ummoxing me during my early weeks in Cuba was starting to come clear. Not every Cuban drives a taxi or tends bar for tourist tips, right? So how on Earth, I had wondered every time I examined all the nonpeso merchandise being hawked at Cubans from every direction, were they accumulating these CUCs? Part of the answer is remittances, the dollars and euros sent from relatives abroad. e amount of money sent to Cuba annually is hard to track, but some economists estimate the number may surpass $2 billion this year. That means the modern Cuban state is being nourished partly by people who've le it. And because both the U.S. and Cuban governments have eased restrictions on émigrés returning to visit family, the Cuban Americans who arrive to weepy reunion embrac- es at the Havana airport are usually carrying both money and goods: televisions, appliances, du el bags full of clothing, and anything else their rela- tives can resell por la izquierda for CUCs. ere's stealing too, which during the post- Soviet-collapse depression years emerged as a nationwide mechanism for family survival. e verb lu cha r, which means " ght," also translates loosely in Cuba to "transfer workplace items into one's personal possession, which the system impels us to do because our salaries won't cover a lousy Bucanero." e standard lucha involves eating, drinking, using, bartering, or selling the items in question. Reform campaigns pushed by Raúl Castro have produced scores of high-level corruption arrests, but one de ning quality of any attractive workplace, still, is the nature of the lucha. ("If you can't look around and nd things you can take home or resell," a woman in her 40s from a working-class neighborhood outside Havana told me rmly, "then it's not a good job.") Nothing about this combination, remittanc- es plus pilfering, is unusual in a small tropical country without abundant raw material for ex- port. Neither is the third important way CUCs arrive in Cubans' pockets: legal commerce, of any sort, that directly or indirectly procures foreigners' money. But the government of the Cuban proyecto socialista, or socialist proj- ect---in official dispatches that remains the preferred term---has tried for a half century to wall o much of the country from the very buy- sell system that generated that money in the first place. Watching Cubans grapple, as they consider just how many of those walls ought now MANY CUBANS NO LONGER PRACTICE THEIR PROFESSIONS BECAUSE YEARS OF STUDY IN ENGINEERING, MEDICINE PRODUCED SALARIES IN A CURRENCY THAT'S WORTHLESS.