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Some days Avilio Guia likes to come and sit outside the new Carlos III Market and watch the people coming and going from dollar-only shops. He was a foreman on the construction team that built the mall a year ago. Now, it is a world out of his reach. He has no way to earn hard currency and the shops inside accept nothing else. Ten years after the Soviet bloc collapsed and cut off Cuba's lifeline of subsidies and aid, Cubans struggle to survive in a dual economy, fueled in large part by money flowing from their greatest enemy, the United States.
Washington has maintained a year-old embargo on its nearest Caribbean neighbor but moved recently toward marginally more contact, announcing last week that it would permit payments from Cuban emigres and other Americans to increase. The once egalitarian island has evolved into a society of haves and have nots, where schoolteachers and doctors supplement meager state incomes with ingenious moonlighting known as ''inventando,'' or inventing, because hotel workers make far more than professionals.
More and more people are turning to illegal schemes, running gypsy cabs, engaging in prostitution or black-market sales of Cuba's famous cigars, rum and coffee. Other Cubans have abandoned state jobs and opened small businesses under new rules allowing self-employment in the faint hope of earning more than they did from the state. Driving these trends is a simple reality: State-controlled wages have remained frozen while prices have risen dramatically since the Soviet era ended.
Even though Fidel Castro's Government continues to distribute rations of subsidized food and to provide free housing, medical care and education, most people cannot make ends meet on salaries or pensions alone. Government stores are nearly bare, and the food in farmers' markets is relatively expensive, thanks to onerous taxes on the vendors.
Only people who get dollars from relatives abroad or tips from tourists can afford to live decently. Here, no one lives on their salaries alone. By , the centrally planned economy had shrunk by 35 percent, and the island's 11 million inhabitants were squeezed as never before. Prices skyrocketed. Hunger became common. Factories closed for lack of spare parts. Thousands of Cubans began fleeing to the United States on rafts. Since the crisis hit, Mr. Castro has consistently blamed the United States' embargo for his people's hardships, accusing Washington again and again of ''waging economic war.