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Fake Banknotes in Havana

People pay surprisingly little attention to checking whether their change comes in counterfeit notes.
By Carlos Rodríguez
  • A Cuban ten-peso note of the kind now being counterfeited. (Photo: David Sasaki/Flickr)
    A Cuban ten-peso note of the kind now being counterfeited. (Photo: David Sasaki/Flickr)

Fake banknotes are circulating in the Cuban capital Havana, but although they are fairly easy to spot, residents pass them from hand to hand with apparent unconcern.

“No one bothers to check whether a banknote is fake,” taxi driver Rafael García said. “Just as I will accept it, I’ll hand it back to [other] customers.”

García said he had no idea where the banknotes came from, adding that the police did not seem to be doing anything about it.

There have been no official announcements about the counterfeit notes, which come in ten- and 20-peso denominations.

The fakes are easy to identify on inspection – the ten-peso notes are the right colour, but are missing a watermark depicting Cuban revolutionary Celia Sánchez. The 20-pesos are watermarked with the correct image of Camilo Cienfuegos, another revolutionary hero, but are greener than the blue of the originals, and the colour runs.

Havana resident Michel López warns, “The day people run into legal trouble is the day they’ll start having to take the use of counterfeit money seriously.”

Already, he says, no one he knows would try to bank a fake banknote that had been passed to them.

According to independent lawyer Laritza Diversent, the mere possession of counterfeit money is punishable with four to ten years’ imprisonment.

Gladis Martínez, who works for Metropolitano Bank, says staff receive fake notes from customers very rarely, but when they do, they take it out of circulation, record the ID number of the person who handed it over, and report the case to management.

Another taxi driver, Carlos Torres, says he would only scrutinise a banknote carefully if it was in convertible pesos, a separate, parallel and more valuable currency that is pegged to the US dollar.

“When I get home and count my money, I sometimes realise that some of the ten-peso notes are false,” he said. “The next day, they’ll be the first ones I hand back to customers.”

Carlos Rodriguez is the pseudonym of an independent journalist based in Havana. 

This story was first published on IWPR’s website

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