Cuba is the only country on earth that prints two currencies. When the Soviet Union fell in the early 1990s, the subsidies the USSR had been sending to Havana were cut off. As a result, Cuba suffered a devastating 35 percent drop in its GDP. The situation on the ground was dire; in Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos (With Our Own Efforts), a 300-page volume of everyday survival strategies distributed in the early ’90s by the publishing arm of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cubans were offered helpful instructions for how to make shampoo out of rum, and for a recipe for “sausages” made of nylon stockings stuffed with seasoned grapefruit rind.
Carlos, like 4.6 million of the 5 million people in Cuba’s labor force, works for the state. A lighting and set designer who lives in the “upscale” Vedado section of Havana, the 74 year old has accompanied traveling Cuban theater and dance productions all over Latin America and Eastern Europe. The government pays Carlos relatively well for his work; he earns roughly what a doctor earns. Yet even though he is relatively privileged by comparison, Carlos’s monthly salary covers perhaps half a month’s worth of expenses. And so, displaying the optimistic, opportunistic trait known in Cuba as resolver, Carlos makes up for the shortfall by earning CUCs on the side.
Resolver can mean a lot of things.
Cuban citizens hope that Raúl Castro will tackle financial reform as artfully as Cuban citizens tackle financial survival. But the historically awful performance of the Cuban economy under the tutelage of the Castros doesn’t inspire much confidence. Nonetheless, Ernesto Hernández-Catá, former Deputy Director of the International Monetary Fund, has hope.