Cuba: Where Everything is Forbidden, Everything is For Sale

A step forward

Andy is one of those who doesn't wait. He had a mobile phone when they were only for foreigners, bought an apartment at the margin of the obsolete housing law, and last year had already begun selling the toasters that Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, said won't be available until 2010. He wanders around to the large stores that sell in convertible pesos* and offers his merchandise, diverted from state warehouses. He's a man of these times and at the same time a step forward into the future, a complete product of a long era of illegalities.


He rents movies and soap operas copied from a satellite dish that he hides in a supposed water tank. His clients always ask for something with sex, a lot of action and little politics. He satisfies them. Whatever is banned is the direct source of his earnings and as there is so much one can't do, he is a king in the country of the forbidden. This young man, not yet forty, sniffs out any restriction that creates a niche market. His long experience in subterfuges has taught him that respecting the penal code and survival are contradictory actions. So, in the face of criticism for his work as an illegal vendor, he says he only provides that which the State doesn't offer or sells at prohibitive prices.

His pocket dictates his ethics and he has scammed some who trusted him too much. Nothing keeps him from sleeping peacefully at night because he knows that among his victims there are those who cheat others to obtain dividends. He belongs to that generation that has seen their parents steal from the State, grew up with the black market and taught their children the ruthless code of taking everything within their reach. It could be that one day they'll nab him, put him behind bars for getting too far ahead of himself, but it won't change anything. In this town there are many Andys.

* Convertible pesos: Cuba has two currencies, Cuban pesos and convertible pesos (CUCs). Wages are paid in Cuban pesos but many goods are sold only in CUCs, the currency for tourists. 1 CUC ≈ 25 Cuban Pesos ≈ $1.10 U.S. The average monthly wage is the equivalent of about $20 U.S.

(The English translation of Yoani's blog can be read here.)