Cuba: Fake Money and Picture IDs
May 29, 2013
Vicente Morín Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — The grocer at the bodega on my block, a man well liked in
our neighborhood, has put up a sign which reads: “Notice: Anyone making
purchases with 50 or 100-peso bills must show me their photo ID. No
Asking around, I found out the man had been paid with a fake one-hundred
peso note, yet another victim of the veritable invasion of counterfeit
money Havana is experiencing. A neighbor of mine tells me they haven’t
yet found the printers, true counterfeiting masters. She says that if
you place the notes side by side, real next to fake, it’s almost
impossible to tell them apart.
I get a little concerned, thinking this might be an instruction handed
down from the Ministry of Domestic Trade. Clerks at other shops set the
record straight: “No, no such instruction’s has ordered that. That’s
just your grocer being silly.”
I say goodbye to my friend at the Cuatro Caminos market and head to La
Segunda Estrella, a very popular cafeteria, where my friend Mario, who
has worked many years behind a counter, tells me: “the bills are
identical; they even have the security watermark.”
I ask him whether one sees Jose Martí, Cuba’s great martyr, when one
looks at the bill against the light. “You see him, Vicente. You can only
tell it’s fake if you wet your fingers and rub the note, because the ink
runs. Your grocer is going to need a glass of water and a lot of
patience to check each note, by the looks of it!”
That’s a bit much, I think to myself. People don’t often make large
purchases at a bodega and pay with fifty or one hundred peso notes even
less often. Of course, this doesn’t make my grocer feel any better over
being shafted like that, because that money will need to come out of his
own pocket, and because he feels cheated by people he has been serving
for years in the neighborhood. My concerns, rather, surround this whole
business of showing ID, as no one, at least not the competent
authorities, has issued any instruction in this connection.
In Cuba, it is mandatory to carry personal identification – a document
created by the State as a means of controlling the population – at all
times. The police may request to see it, at their discretion, whenever
they deem it necessary.
If you don’t have it on you, the police are authorized to take you to a
station, fine you and lock you away until they have determined your
identity or, of course, until your ID turns up.
Decades ago, Cuban citizens had approved of this law, regarding it as
something positive without thinking about its future consequences. We
placed a lot of trust in our government, in this and many other matters.
It was only years later that we began to see the repercussions of our trust.
Today, the personal identification document can be requested by any
figure of authority at an entity whose services one requires, and one
must produce it, lest not be denied the treatment that one deserves.
For example, you head to the Computer Sciences Center to get the last
update for an antivirus and, if you don’t show them your ID, you get
anything. The same thing happens when you need to leave your belongings
in a checkroom to go into a store or if you’re seen conversing with a
foreigner on the street.
This business of asking for one’s ID upon payment dates back to the
1990s, when the U.S. dollar began to circulate, along with the Cuban
peso, in Cuba’s domestic market. If you paid with a fifty or a
one-hundred greenback note, it was mandatory for the person collecting
to write down the serial number on the note and the personal information
of the individual making the purchase.
Now, to make matters more complicated, the managers of many locales
offering different services have made this a requirement, of their own
free will. At this pace, I will likely have to apply for a new ID card
soon, for the plastic is beginning to peel off from so much handling,
and, if they ask for it at the bank or police station, where it actually
is mandatory to show it, I will be denied service or fined, justifiably,
for the questionable state it’s in.
This last remark, made by a concerned neighbor, takes me to the end of
this chronicle, leading us, full circle, back to the beginning.
According to the newspapers, this year, the Personal Identification
Document all Cubans currently have, known as the “CI”, will be replaced
with a new, high-security card which is more practical as a means of
verifying personal information.
At this pace, I will likely have to apply for a new ID card soon, for
the plastic is beginning to peel off from so much handling, and, if they
ask for it at the bank or police station, where it actually is mandatory
to show it, I will be denied service or fined, justifiably, for the
questionable state it’s in.
In the meantime, the streets are still a mess, waiting for a modicum of
order which refuses to arrive. Yesterday, I was walking down Monte
Street, away from the Parque de la Fraternidad, overwhelmed by the heat
of our early summer. I see a brewery, the kind that serve beer on tap,
and ask for a pint.
Imagine my surprise when the waiter, a young man whose swarthy
complexion Cubans colloquially refer to as “indian”, says to me: “Fella,
I need your ID.” “Why?” I ask him, somewhat taken aback. “Cause the
place is full, people take off and take the mugs with them, and I bought
those mugs myself. If I lose ’em, I can’t come in to work tomorrow!”
That is to say, this young man, without being rude, was guaranteeing the
return of the mugs he had purchased by holding on to people’s IDs. I
looked him over twice and continued on my way, angry.
The young man called after me, perhaps as a show of respect towards an
older gentleman, to offer me an alternative I, a 56-year-old man, would
find acceptable. I was grateful for the gesture, laughed, paid for the
beer and gave him a USB memory stick as the guarantee of my good behavior.
As I took the first sip of beer, someone nearby said: “Boss, you’re on
top of things!” In Cuba, this is a synonym for an uncommon and effective
response to a situation that is out of the ordinary.
Between truth and falsity, we continue to stumble along.
Vicente Morín Aguado: firstname.lastname@example.org