Posted on Thursday, 11.20.08
Cuban activists say they have 20,000 signatures
HAVANA — — A women's group presented thousands of signatures Thursday
petitioning Cuba's parliament to close the gap in the communist
country's dual economy, which pays state workers in Cuban pesos but
offers basics like toilet paper in another currency that few can afford.
Four women wearing white "With the Same Money" T-shirts gathered outside
the legislature and attempted to turn in proof of 10,000 new signatures
which they said complemented 10,837 signatures they gave lawmakers a
Their leader, Belinda Sales, said legislative clerks refused to receive
the new signatures, saying lawmakers were still studying last year's
She said more than a thousand members of her Latin American Foundation
of Rural Women collected signatures across Cuba over the past two years,
and found wide support even though authorities repeatedly seized petitions.
"Because it does not include anything political, people aren't afraid to
sign," she said. "Everyone who lives in Cuba wants to be paid in one
currency and have that same currency meet all their needs."
The group has not provided hard copies of the collected signatures, but
Salas said legislative authorities are free to check their authenticity.
She said her organization receives no funding from dissident
organizations in the United States, surviving solely on donations from
supporters inside Cuba.
Parliament meets just two weekends a year and unanimously approves
proposals offered by the communist leadership. Still, Salas said she is
confident that government officials are working on how to merge the two
"I really think they are doing some economic experiments on this," she said.
The group's petition seeks the right to use regular Cuban pesos – the
currency of state salaries in a country where the government controls
well over 90 percent of the economy – in upscale stores, restaurants and
hotels that only accept the convertible Cuban peso, worth 24 times more.
The average monthly government salary is 408 pesos, or 17 convertible
pesos, though most Cubans live rent-free and their ordinary pesos pay
for for heavily subsidized electricity, food rations and transportation
provided by the communist system. Convertible peso stores were created
for tourists, but offer essentials like cooking oil and toilet paper not
sold in other stores.
Those who can't afford convertible-peso prices have to turn to the black
market, though most Cubans have access to at least some convertible
pesos, either by exchanging foreign currency sent by relatives in the
U.S., or by working for foreign firms or jobs in tourism.
President Raul Castro has said this dual economy is one of Cuba's
most-pressing problems. But state economists say a sudden boost of the
peso against its convertible counterpart would drive Cubans to buy
expensive, imported goods at drastically reduced prices – leaving state
stores with little income to restock shelves.
Salas countered, however, that Cuba could look to the reunification of
Germany and other European examples when governments spent cash reserves
to successfully merge two currencies.
"We are not economists," she said. "But a solution must be sought."