Imagine having to depend on the American government for all of your basic needs, receiving only $20 a month as a salaried government worker. Yet the money you receive from the government cannot be used to buy many of the goods and services you need. First you must exchange those 20 meager dollars for a different currency, let’s call it the e-dollar, worth 25 times a regular dollar. The money you earn working for the government is not even accepted at the government-run stores that sell packaged food, electronics and other consumer goods. The gross economic injustice that you face is aggravated by your lack of basic civil rights and the constant threat of government surveillance, beatings, imprisonment, and even exile should you even contemplate demanding better conditions for yourself and your community.
This is a daily reality for the millions of Cubans who live under the Communist regime established by Fidel Castro and perpetuated by his brother Raul Castro. Yet Cuba has many brave souls who fight for economic and political justice daily despite the dangers to themselves and their families. Last week, I was fortunate to meet and spend time with two women from FLAMUR (Federación Latinoamericana de Mujeres Rurales), a Cuban organization of about 1,000 women across the island committed to bettering the lives of women by empowering them to become agents of change (www.flamurcuba.org).
The women of FLAMUR in recent years took on a huge campaign, “Con la Misma Moneda,” to protest the unjust economic system implemented in Cuba. FLAMUR’s movement involved collecting thousands of signatures to deliver to the National Assembly, as well as sit-ins in restaurants, demanding them to accept the currency they are paid in. Cuba uses both a convertible peso known as the CUC, which is tied to the U.S. dollar, and a Cuban peso known as the moneda nacional. Only those who receive remittances from family members abroad, work in the tourist industry, or in the illegal black market are able to receive or earn CUCs, while state workers and pensioners are paid in the national pesos, which must be converted to CUCs in order to purchase most goods. The Cuban government claims that it lacks sufficient reserves to only circulate CUCs.
Magdelivia Hildalgo, the founder and international representative of FLAMUR, along with Belinda Salas Tapanes, the former National President of FLAMUR, visited IRD headquarters last week to meet our team and work on a proposal in response to a solicitation from USAID to increase economic freedom among marginalized Cubans. Magdelivia and Belinda represent a group of 1,000 courageous women who are positioned to make a huge difference in the economic and civil rights across the island. From spending time with them, I learned that these women are inspired by the impact of the Civil Rights movement in America; they mentioned Rosa Parks as an example of a person whose one small act triggered a movement. These women have been arrested, beaten, and exiled and continue to fearlessly fight against the repressive Cuban regime. If IRD wins the proposal, FLAMUR will be a vital partner in implementing a program on the island of Cuba to strengthen civil society groups and form village savings and loans groups to encourage entrepreneurship and increase awareness of financial products and business management.
I am extremely grateful to have met these women and to have the opportunity to contribute significantly to the proposal. I learned so much working on this proposal, and even extended my internship by three days in order to see it completed for submission. I pray that IRD and FLAMUR win the proposal and successfully implement a program that will help prepare marginalized Cuban people to become economically independent and operate in a free and democratic society someday.