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Lucy: the computer application that aims to revitalize totalitarianism in Cuba

The day when the government eliminates paper money may seem far off, but it is not; Castroism has been taking steps in his direction for years, touting its economic benefits, which prevents us from seeing the political threat it poses.

La Habana
'Payment by transfer accepted' scrawled at an undersupplied Cuban agricultural market.
'Payment by transfer accepted' scrawled at an undersupplied Cuban agricultural market. Diario de Cuba

Officially, Lucy has been presented as the "first application developed in Cuba to track personal and business finances, allowing users to manage expenses and income from the national context" ... After its appearance, we would like to sound the alarm again about a threat that is overlooked because it is considered distant and very difficult to implement.

In recent articles —prompted by other government announcements about the advancement of computerization in Cuba— we warned readers that Castroism is prioritizing electronic commerce and the digital recording of all financial transactions in a progressive shift towards the elimination of paper money, in order to do eradicate the anonymity that the use of cash gives citizens.

With the institutionalized snitching of CDRs practically having disappeared, and as it is increasingly useless to spy on one's neighbor through windows left ajar, the Government needs to revamp its totalitarian control mechanisms in a society that is progressing towards digitization, and there is no better way to do this than knowing what every Cuban buys and sells. This is where Lucy comes in.

Some believe that there will be no progress in this regard because the elimination of paper money would affect foreign investment, the influx of tourism, and lead to leakages of national capital, but there is no solid basis for this prediction: foreign investments are already electronically documented, tourists regularly use plastic, and national capital is simply too scarce for its "leakage" to matter.

In fact, once the Government controls the Cuban black market —thanks to the traceability of bank-based economic transactions— it will be able to offer its foreign partners a group of captive consumers. The competition that "mules" pose to state hybrid retail stores could be regulated according to the interests of the State.

Others believe that Cubans' "inventiveness" is greater than the Government's, that the people will always remain one step ahead, despite persecution and repression. In any case, however, any "invention" in this regard will be trivial: some bartering, some kind of debt clearinghouse, perhaps a commodity will evolve and become a commonly accepted means of payment ... all of this is very difficult and would constitute stopgap solutions.

The only important alternative would be cryptocurrency, which recent Central Bank Resolution 215/2021 aims to control. And, in the end, as the Government is the only Internet provider, it may end up banning it. Recently, we witnessed how Castroism defends its financial monopoly, even going so far as not to admit cash deposits in dollars.

Some believe that the black market's beneficial impact on Castroism, functioning as an escape valve and a system to provide a certain distributive order (according to supply and demand), mitigating the chaos generated by centralized planning, could deter the Government from eliminating paper money.

But there is no reason to assume that the black market will disappear; Castroism would manage to tolerate and even exploit these illicit transactions, which would then be registered on ETECSA's servers, constituting one more weapon of political repression, not only against active dissidents, but also everyday citizens, who could be dissuaded from challenging the government when it has their complete personal financial histories —including any minor illegalities, lies and concealments, even at the family level— on file.

And the cost of such a system? I agree that the cost is high, and right now Castroism is bankrupt. In fact, it probably has not eliminated paper money yet because it cannot afford the infrastructure to replace it. But, mindful that Castroism's greatest desire and need is to stay in power, it will only be a matter of time before it musters the resources necessary. Bear in mind that computer technologies are constantly getting cheaper, and its Chinese partners are very advanced in this technology.

It is also necessary to understand that establishing universal electronic financial transactions in society is, in itself, an extraordinarily profitable business; not only does it reduce costs entailed by the issuance, transport and safeguarding of cash, but it also reduces transaction costs, speeds up exchanges, improves reliability and minimizes conflicts. Economically, eliminating cash justifies and pays for itself; the social control that it gives a totalitarian government is the icing on the cake.

In fact, we are not talking about the future; under the direct control of Díaz-Canel, and already a self-avowed priority of the Government, in Cuba progress in e-commerce is already being rapidly made. It may seem absurd, but even at Havana's most ramshackle corner stores one can pay with a cell phone, and, as seen in the photo above, even at an almost-empty agricultural market, a sign scrawled in chalk informs customers that they can pay electronically.

The idea transmitted to many by the aforementioned arguments is that the Government might be concerned about the economic consequences of controlling society through the complete electronic tracking of financial transactions. This is errant thinking because, first of all, it is economically viable; and second, because subordinating the economy to its need for control society is inherent to Castroism, whose ultimate goal is not to serve the people, but just the other way around: for the people to serve it.

The day when the Cuban government eliminates paper money may seem far off, but it is not. Aware of the benefits of such a scenario, it has been taking steps in this direction for years, steps that it has made piecemeal, and emphasizing their economic benefits, which does not allow us to see the global plan or political threat they represent.

We should not underestimate heir to Castroism's resolution and desire for power. A failure to understand how Castro gradually demolished civil society gave us 62 years of dictatorship. We should not make the same mistake in the digital age; we need to realize now that "Lucy" comes from "Lucifer."

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