Monday, 8 November 2010

The Curious Case of the Cuban Currency

Most of the facts listed below have been picked up from my conversations with the locals and tour guides that I met with during my trip to Cuba. So I cannot vouch for their authenticity. But I managed to double check most of the facts, thanks to Google!

~ Cuba has two official currencies : the peso and the convertible peso, commonly known as local and tourist currency respectively. Luxury items and tourist items like souvenirs, rum, cigars, tour packages, boarding and lodging expenses are to be paid in the convertible peso. The local peso is used for groceries, provisions and other daily needs. The convertible peso came into existence because the Cuban government wanted a currency in Cuba which was stronger than the dollar and could be used by the tourists instead of the dollar. So one convertible peso is pegged at 1.08 USD irrespective of the current demand for the greenback. Cuba is also probably the only country in which the Canadian dollar is worth more than the American dollar!

~ The Republic of Cuba consists of several archipelagos and the island of Cuba is the largest island in one of the archipelagos.

~ Hurricanes are a common feature in Cuba and the island nation witnesses an average of two hurricanes every year. Which is why tall buildings are a rarity in Cuba. In the city of Matansas, there are just three buildings which are more than two storey high!

~ Matansas gets its name from the Spanish word for 'massacre'. In the 16th century some Spaniards wanted to cross the bay of Matansas (which obviously wasn't called that then). They asked some natives to help them cross the rivers. The natives had a grudge against the Spaniards because of the cruel way in which they treated them. So when the boats were midway, the natives turned them over. The Spaniards were dressed in metal armor and so all but three drowned immediately. The three who survived were found seven years later of which just one was mentally stable to recount the incident!

~ 50% of the total number of Cuban tourists are from Canada.

~ Healthcare is totally covered by the government including plastic surgery!

~ I spent an entire week in Cuba and visited four cities, but I never came across a single beggar. That is because every person in Cuba is given basic necessities like rice, oil, beans and the likes at a nominal rate 35 pesos every month, which works out to $1.50.

~ In the 16th century, Cuba was inhabited by around 100,000 natives. When the Spaniards invaded Cuba, they bought along diseases from Europe which led to an epidemic and within 50 years there were just 5,000 natives left.

~ Cuba's statue of liberty as can be seen alongside was erected in 1898 when Cubans got independence from the Spaniards. This independence was short lived though as in 1902 Cuba became a neo colony of the USA.

~ Cuba has 100% literacy. Education in Cuba is absolutely free and the Government sponsors everything from fees to stationery and school uniform. Education till the ninth grade is a must for every Cuban. If a parent fails to send his/her child to school, then the parent is imprisoned! After the ninth grade the Government on the basis of merit and taking into considering the preferences of the student, decides which student takes up what course during his pre university (10-12) and university (13-17,18) studies.

~ Cuban cigars are world famous. That should not come as a surprise considering the fact that most of the workers in the cigar industry are women. Cuba produces 150,000 cigars a day, most of which are exported to various countries other than the United States. If Cuba decides to export to the US, then America by itself would consume 60% of Cuba's cigars sending the price up by 35-40% for at least 2 years, by which time the supply curve can catch up with its demand counterpart.

~ Cuban citizens cannot leave the country unless they get special permission as well as a letter of invitation from a citizen of the country they intend to visit. This procedure is rather tedious and most Cubans have never seen what is on the other side of the immigration counter at their local airport.

~ In Cuba, it is compulsory for everyone to work till retirement age, which is 60 if you're female and 65 if you're male.

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