5 Things You Might Not Have Known About Cuba
Photo by Emanuel Haas on Unsplash
1. Cuba has two currencies.
These are the CUP (Cuban Peso) and CUC the (Cuban Convertible Peso). Most wages are paid in CUP, while most consumer goods are priced in CUC. Because the CUC is pegged to the US dollar and the CUP is not, this system greatly diminishes the purchasing power of everyday Cubans and highlights inequalities between those who can access CUC and those who cannot.
This arrangement goes back to Fidel Castro’s decision to legalize the use of the dollar in 1993, but only in certain stores that sold luxury items for tourists and wealthy Cubans living abroad. In 2004 the USD was replaced by the CUC – but they’re essentially the same. Now almost all everyday household items are priced in CUC.
2. This year Cubans got 3G for the first time and it has expanded citizens capacity for social action.
Last December, Cubans gained (albeit expensive and slow) access to 3G on their phones. This change has led to an increase in civic engagement on island. In April there was a march to end animal abuse and just one month later a march for LGBT rights. Both were coordinated almost entirely through social media.
The government allowed the animal rights groups to demonstrate, most likely seeing it as an apolitical and non-threatening issue. However, these demonstrations should not be taken for granted. In advocating for ‘non-threatening’ issues, Cuban’s are still developing the mechanisms, knowledge and organization structures of dissidence which could be used later to organize around more traditionally politicized issues.
The government did cancel the LGBT march and of those who showed up anyway, at least 3 activists were arrested and others claimed to have suffered violence at the hands of plainclothes security officers.
Twitter activism has also become a significant dynamic since the 3G plans became more widespread.
These news ways for Cuban citizens to organize and engage in activism enabled by expanded access to the internet is an important dynamic to watch moving forward.
3. Cubans are also part of the northern triangle immigration crisis at the US border.
Many Cubans have made their attempts to move north to the US border, especially dangerous is crossing the River Darien in Panama near the Colombians border. On a visit to the area, an AP reporter recorded over 1000 Haitian and Cuba refugees in the area.
If they make it to the border they no longer have the protections of the Cold War era Wet Feet Dry Feet policy allowing Cubans to become residents after a year in the US, as this was repealed in 2017.
Like all migrants heading north, they are targets of extorsion, sexual assault, violence, human trafficking and are exposed to dangerous environmental circumstances. With the US militarizing the southern border and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, even arrival in the US means separation from loved ones, detention and deportation.
4. The Cuban government practices short term detention of activists to reduce their effectiveness without drawing attention.
These detentions usually last only a few hours and are not long enough for anyone to really notice or advocate on their behalf. They often occur outside of regular business hours so that the detained person cannot contact a lawyer. They are carried out to reduce the effectiveness of an activist, causing them to miss meetings, demonstrations or flights leaving the country.
5. Cuban doctors are currently deployed all over the world and their salaries make up most of government earnings.
Over 30 000 Cuban Doctors are stationed around the world in over 67 countries practicing medicine contracted out by the Cuban state. Countries will pay the Cuban government directly for their services, making doctors one of Cuba’s most lucrative exports as well as a soft power tool.
The doctors themselves only get a small cut of the money they make and are subjected to sometimes adverse circumstances. In April two Cuban doctors were kidnapped by militant group Al-Shabab while working in Kenya, and still haven’t been returned home.
Because of lingering Cold War logics, the reality of life in Cuba is often obscured, sensationalized or romanticized to serve political perspectives and agendas. It’s important that we, as members of the international community, interrogate the way those narratives and interests shape how we think of Cuba. If you’re interested in learning more, check out these online independent news platforms run by Cuban journalists!