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Who are Cuba's nouveau rich?


Cafes in the "Avenida del Puerto."

They eat, live and dress better. They travel, have Internet access, and hire domestic workers. These are Cuba’s nouveau rich.

The newly minted rich in Cuban society have distanced themselves from the majority because they eat, live and dress better. They travel and spend summer vacations in hotels. They have Internet access, foreign channel programming, and hire domestic workers. But, it is difficult to quantify their wealth.

Everything from reggaeton songs, newly released movies, blog posts, conversations, and even the articles of Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper, talk about the island’s "newly rich" Cubans. The nouveau rich receive diplomas from the Banco Popular de Ahorro (BPA), translated as the Popular Savings Bank, for being millionaires as measured in Cuban pesos. They enjoy a better quality of life than most of their countrymen. Unlike the small governing circle in the country, they don’t pledge allegiance to the ideology in power (although they show it, if required).

"People who flaunt their modern cars begin to distance themselves from those who have to use public transportation or from the idea of a return to the institutional use of bicycles,” cites intellectual dissident Manuel Cuesta Morúa. “There is a clear division in society, which in Cuba isn’t linked to productivity, because Cuba doesn’t produce anything. Instead it has to do with access to privileges and access to goods from abroad," he concludes.

According to journalist Julio Aleaga Pesant, a precedent was created in the early ‘90s when the middle class disappeared. “Up until that time,” says Pesant, “only those in the higher echelons of the political power dome enjoyed the perks, the travel, the Lada cars.” From there, he continues, the distribution of wealth began to crumble and another hierarchy was established--one of money and purchasing power.

Pesant believes there are differences in range within the circles of power. On one level, there are military officials with access to certain assets, entrepreneurs and very successful artists. On another level may be artists, creators and professionals whose competence has allowed them to travel abroad to attend events.

Computer engineer Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina believes that he has his finger on the street’s daily pulse. In their imaginations, people create this picture of an intelligentsia with a great deal of access to money and travel. The image then becomes blurry and what reappears in its place is a picture of people receiving money from abroad. The clues to identifying those who have money are not confined to a car or a house--many have acquired those by inheritance—so these don’t necessarily mean people "have money."

Independent blogger Regina Coyula lives in one of the most upscale neighborhoods of Havana. She can attest to the dramatic contrasts that occur every day. She is in agreement with other respondents in that despite the prevailing poverty, in Cuba there are now the nouveau rich. Coyula notes,
There are people who have become wealthy because they do honest work, based on personal effort, intelligence and dedication. Others do it illegally. Some derive their riches from the drug business, selling beef or loggerhead, or from managing a foreign company.

The leaders don’t need a bull or bear economy. Those are the people in the “rich” category, but have no need to depend on money. The rich usually pay for services such as holidays abroad, but those in leadership positions, though they have no money, don’t need it either because if they take a vacation or want to do some other activity, it’s not the money they count on, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the population.
Cities like Havana and Santiago de Cuba show huge differences in their social development. Therefore, quantifying the emergence of individuals with economic resources that clearly surpass those of the majority of individuals must be done from another angle.

Freelance journalist and philologist Yusmila Reina Ferrera concurs. "People know who the new rich are, because the ruling party points them out, talks about them. But everyone knows who, from the government, was there from before. People can’t imagine how much wealth is in that small circle of power. Every time a documentary is released, some material about them or their family is something transcendental and it is banned from circulation," she says.

Ferrera continues:
Here in Santiago de Cuba, you can spot people with money by the clothes they wear, the homes with window grills or their cars (they may not have the latest models, but they are well maintained). The lucky ones the successful prostitutes and their pimps who show off what they have in places that sell Cuban convertible pesos. They have access to beer and fried chicken, which is something out of reach for the rest of the population.

The autocracy tolerates rich men, businessmen and those who make their money on the fringes--as long as they display loyalty in public, are cooperative, don’t show off, don’t get in the way and, above all can always play with the chain, but not with the wounded beast that is the regime.
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    Luis Felipe Rojas

    Luis Felipe Rojas is a storyteller, poet, freelance photographer and multimedia producer. He has published five poetry collections spanning over a decade. His stories have appeared in various literary magazines. Rojas is the author of the blog Crossing the Barbed Wire. Follow him on Twitter: @alambradas
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