In The Bank or Under the Mattress? Where Do Cubans Keep Their Money?
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 May 2017 — Finding a little bottle
filled with coins that her father hid in the patio was something that
happened to Eneida when she was young; now she's a retired and says that
financially she's "escachada, without a single peso in the bank." Her
family inherited an old mansion in the center of Santa Clara, and also
the determination not to put their savings in the hands of the state.
Each month, the pensioner goes to the nearest ATM, takes out the amount
of her retirement, equivalent to about $12, and stores it inside an old
coffee can. "I prefer to have it close because in most stores there are
problems paying with a magnetic card."
The Santa Claran also fears the authorities because, in her opinion,
"you never know when they will confiscate something."
Eneida has bad memories. Her father owned a bodega that was nationalized
during the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive, and before that the small
business owner had lost some of his savings with the paper currency swap
decreed by the government in 1961. "He kept in the house what little
they didn't take from him," recalls his daughter.
Since then more than half a century has passed, but many citizens are
still wary of putting their money in government-run institutions.
The banking system is made up of nine banks, 14 non-bank national
financial institutions, nine representative offices of foreign financial
institutions and one in the process of registration. For Eneida all
these entities are "the same dog but with a different collar."
In Havana, the Metropolitan Bank seeks to attract more customers at all
costs, but to the mistrust of banks is added the poor service at its
branches. The long lines outside the offices and the few economic
incentives to keep the money in their safes discourage savers.
The interest rates approved by the Central Bank determine that a
fixed-term deposit of 72 months accumulates 7% of its amount. However,
the dual currency system makes that figure ridiculous.
"I saved a third of my salary for five years to pay for my daughter's
fifteenth birthday party," says Teobaldo, a 47-year-old from Las Tunas
who transports goods from private markets to paladares and cafes. "I put
it in the bank and I had no problem, but I had the illusion that the
money would grow more."
Theobald came to have the equivalent of 1,800 CUC with which he paid for
the drink and the food of the party, as well as the cake and the cars to
make a tour of the city and the photos of the honoree. "I had to ask my
brother to send me more money from the United States for clothes,
flowers and the hiring of musicians," he adds.
As soon as his daughter's birthday came, the small entrepreneur took all
of his savings from the bank. "I did not want to set off the alarms," he
explains. In 1993, the government launched an offensive known as
Operation Potted Plant aimed at confiscating products and imprisoning
those who possessed "illicit money."
The crusade became a hunt against the new rich. "If you had a nice
house, air-conditioning and a well-painted façade, they would come down
on you," says Teobaldo. The Operation prosecuted two brothers for
"illicit enrichment." One of them raised pigs and the other sold gold
jewelry. After several years in prison they ended up emigrating.
Younger people see it differently. It is not mistrust that guides them
to not have bank accounts, but the economic precariousness of the
day-to-day. "Save money?" a young student at the University of
Pedagogical Sciences who works during non-school hours as a messenger to
distribute the Weekly Packet, asks with disbelief.
"Having savings is a thing for the rich," he says. Most of their
his live on what the parents give them or earn their own living, "but
there is not enough to save," he says.
Source: In The Bank or Under the Mattress? Where Do Cubans Keep Their
Money? – Translating Cuba -