Jineteros / Hustlers
Because of the complicated situation present in Cuba today, many Cubans feel the need to look for creative ways to earn money. One of these is to illicitly offer services to travellers such as accommodation, restaurants, and excursions. These people, commonly known as “jineteros” (“jockeys” in English), are normally quite decent and friendly people, but unfortunately their persistence can become annoying.
What complicates the situation even further is that these jineteros often aren’t transparent about their business and disguise their motives, instead showing interest in becoming your friend. As a “friend” they can make money from you by finding you accommodation or restaurants and secretly taking commissions.
As an independent traveler in Cuba it is very common to meet a Cuban in the street and become friends with them, later to find out that all they are interested in is your money. This is one of the most common complaints that independent foreign travelers have about their time in Cuba.
While the services of a jinetero can be useful (in helping you to locate accommodation and a decent restaurant), and the they can be quite charming and entertaining characters, what frustrates independent travelers, is that their local friend becomes pushy and manipulative in their quest to earn more commission and that the whole relationship is based on dishonestly and deceit. Furthermore, towards the end of your stay, the jinetero often pleads with you for money to help them better their life, and frequently invents a story about a sick mother or a daughter’s birthday as extra reasons for you to give them money.
Refreshingly a majority of Cubans aren’t in this game and feel extremely ashamed about their fellow compatriots that are. Like people everywhere, they would feel very uncomfortable about asking for money from somebody they have just met. Most Cubans are very honest and generous people who are delighted to meet a foreigner with no interest in their money at all.
Unfortunately, as an independent traveler, these are the Cubans you are less likely to meet, as they are not the ones that come and introduce themselves to you on the street. A major advantage of being part of a small group tour in Cuba with a local guide, is that you will come into contact much more frequently with these honest Cubans and have less unpleasant interactions with people that try to take advantage of you. You will be introduced to families, artists, doctors, musicians, and dancers that the local tour guide knows well, and knows he can trust to treat his foreign guests with respect.
When the jineteros see you with a local guide, they are much more reluctant to approach you because they know you probably have your accommodation and restaurants already organised and have someone to show you around. Furthermore, they may even know the guide and know that he will easily recognise them and disallow him to socialise with your group.