Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. - http://www.cubafreepress.org

HAVANA, August 3, 1998, Cuba Free Press.

VACATIONS: THE DOLLAR BEATS THE PESO! By Iván García, Cuba Free Press.

To fully enjoy a vacation in the hot summer of 1998, the dilemma in Cuba is a simple one: To have or not to have dollars, that is the question.

Each year, in July or August, about half the Cuban population takes some time off. It is a tradition. Students, workers and intellectuals use the warm months to look for recreation. With the passing of time, recreation possibilities have become much more limited. And 1998 is not an exception.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall which loudly crushed totalitarian socialism, here on the island the government hasnt found an efficient way to provide for the entertainment demands of hundreds of thousands of people.

Until some years ago, when owning dollars was a crime which could send you to jail, Fidel Castro's government guaranteed "distinguished workers" with a stay at any beach facility in the country.

When the old Soviet Union stopped subsidizing the Cuban economy with 4,000,000,000 rubles per year, the Castro government was forced to swallow market-economy formulas. Hence, the dollar wove an empire here in the "republic" in a shameful and insulting manner. The currency of the "Number One Enemy" of Fidel Castro is, in fact, that which marks the pace of life on the island.

The Dollar as Mediator of All Things

Behind either prosperity or economic scarcity, there's the American dollar. It is the main protagonist. Therefore, to really enjoy a summer vacation, it is essential to hold such hard currency. Otherwise, you must adapt to the options offered by the Cuban government. In addition to being few, they involve a high level of suffering.

In the case of Havana, for example, to travel to the coast or to one of the 12 workers' centers functioning in the capital which have a total daily capacity of 60,000 vacationers - you might well spend two to three hours just to get to either place by bus or suburban train.

Once at the place, the search for diversion can turn your time of leisure into a real headache: You find long queue lines if you want to obtain light snacks or buy beer or sodas. Besides, the refreshments are of very poor quality and the service is slow and exasperating. Those are reasons why the people would rather stay in their neighborhoods, playing domino, or perhaps practicing soccer - in fashion after the World Cup or simply relaxing by watching the Colombian soap opera "The Tranquil Waters."

But if one wants to enjoy a pleasant evening, you just have the ever-so-powerful greenbacks. Along the length of the Cuban malecon (sea-wall) it is obvious to for anyone to see the differences during these days of carnival. Those who have no dollars will be able to buy a brew much like beer, or perhaps eat a lunch-box of rice and black beans and pork meat, the typical creole menu. Or they might eat pizza or spaghetti so poorly made that many jokingly wonder why Italy hasn't yet declared war on Cuba. And all of these offerings, to make matters worse, are made available from dirty and crumbling kiosks.

On the other hand, there's the dollar, a synonym of good times, accompanied by rations of fried chicken or Heineken, Cristal or Bavarian beer, something which ridicules the statements about "the cruel American embargo." These and many other products easily enter the country like "Peter coming home."

Thank God or, to be just, to the diaspora of two million Cubans living outside of Cuba and who have Miami as their capital. Because of them, at least 40% of the population here can have, every-so-often, a happy day in this desert of hardship and struggle which life has become. The dollar numbers are rising and they promise better times for the Cuban family.

In 1995 the Island received from abroad some US$500 million through family money transfers. In 1996, the number went up to US$800 million, and in '97, it may have nearly reached US$1,000 million. Of course, 1998 will see another increase!

Those charged with repeating slogans are not hiding their joy about the incoming funds, hard and sound, which provide more earnings than that from tourism.

Within socialist circles, Marx and Washington, DC, go hand in hand. Only those who want to globalize communism cover their eyes to the Cuban reality: To enjoy, own material goods, be happy or simply to live, Cubans are forced to have a pocketful of dollars.

By Iván García, Cuba Free Press.


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