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6 Dollars, Means, and the New Cuban Class System Offering me a parting gift, a dusty little tacita (espresso demitasse) from her own kitchen set, the elderly mother of my landlady, a pensioner, apologized for what she considered too small a gesture, “But I can’t offer you something nicer, because I don’t have access to dollars.” No longer do people describe themselves as poor, or of humble origins, but in relation to their ability to access dollars. Since the delegalization of the dollar (popularly known as fula or divisa) in 2004, the only legal currency in circulation has been the Cuban convertible peso (CUC; see chapter 1, note 11). But, as citizen-consumers say, in the end it’s all dollars, and they serve the same purpose. Dollars by any name are equated not only with wealth, but among citizen-consumers, are also tied tightly to happiness, ease of living, and a countenance that allows families to tolerate tough times. Dollars have arguably become the defining element of social life in late-socialist Cuba. For the first time since the revolution (although no such statistics are officially kept), income distribution among Cubans has become significantly unequal, and there is stratification based on dollar earnings.1 The predictable consequences of this division can also be seen. In particular, ill-will arises between neighbors, friends, and acquaintances related to the various means and modes of acquisition to dollars, and a new Cuban class system has emerged. While this evolving stratification is fairly well documented, the social interactions between members of the new social classes is not, and is something I begin to explore in this chapter. I describe moments of new tension between Cubans with and without access to dollars to illustrate the boundaries between citizens, and to better understand the placement of unsatisfied citizen-consumers in the spectrum of poverty and wealth in Cuba. I place names on new “classes,” or social-economic networks, of Cubans that have taken shape since the legalization of the dollar in 1993 (replaced by the CUC in 2004), discuss the conundrum of race and poverty, and attempt to capture the lived experience and political potential of Cuban monetary dualism. Dollars, Means, and the New Cuban Class System / 99 Legal Means and Dollar Dogs Traveling almost exclusively in unsatisfied citizen-consumer networks, I sometimes got the impression that all Cubans operate private businesses in the shadows and, in truth, there is usually some element of any legal enterprise that is not fully aboveboard by orthodox socialist standards. Nevertheless , state-sanctioned moves toward the market in the late-socialist era have also changed the topography of Cuban society, making possibilities for legally earning dollars part of the new social and economic reality as well. Ironically, the Cuban state has had a direct hand in both attempting to maintain equality and simultaneously exacerbating inequality among its citizens through the legalization of the dollar and of select private enterprises during the Special Period. The presence of casas particulares changes citizens’ relationships to the state and also their discernment of each other.2 For example, when I first developed my relationship with E-mail Elena, my family was renting a room at Stuart’s while we looked for a suitable place to live more permanently. Stuart was a different kind of Cuban, a different kind of citizen, and a different kind of consumer, important for understanding the private enterprise continuum. The four rooms for rent inside Stuart’s spacious casa particular were freshly coated in cool, pastel shades. A crystal chandelier hung from the salon ceiling, framed oil paintings decorated the walls, china knickknacks were on display, a heavy wooden table sat in the center of the living room for meals, and a wide veranda overlooked the quiet city streets. The veranda had lawn furniture, a glass table where guests could enjoy drinks, and free weights and a wooden sit-up board that Stuart occasionally used to keep his potbelly in check. Stuart was an arrendador inscrito (a state-registered lessor) in the strict sense of the term. He paid his bed-and-breakfast impuestos (taxes) promptly and got permisos (permits) for anything he did within the business. He paid a $50 monthly advertising fee to have a large blue-and-white sticker placed on his door, denoting him as an official member of the state-sanctioned earning club. Stuart played by the rules (as far as the state could see), was slick and professional with his clients...


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