The peso (ISO 4217 code: CUP, sometimes called the "national currency" or in Spanish moneda nacional) is one of two official currencies in use in Cuba, the other being the convertible peso (ISO 4217 code: CUC, often called "dollar" in the spoken language). There are currently 25 CUP per CUC.
Most Cuban state workers receive their wages in national pesos, but some receive a portion of their salary in convertible pesos. Shops that sell basics like fruit and vegetables generally accept only national pesos. "Dollar shops" sell the rest. The word "pesos" may refer to either types of money.
Cuban convertible pesos are 25 times more valuable, but that does not completely eliminate the confusion for tourists. Since goods bought in national pesos have government-controlled prices, tourists are sometimes confused by prices that look "too cheap". The hard (CUC) pesos are easy to tell apart from the national (CUP) ones, as CUC coins have an octagonal shape within the outer round rim. The only exception to this is the most common CUP coin, the 1 peso, also has this octagonal shape. Also, CUC currency shows monuments, and CUP bills have portraits.
Before 1857, Spanish and Spanish colonial reales circulated in Cuba. From 1857, banknotes were issued specifically for use on Cuba. These were denominated in pesos, with each peso worth 8 reales. From 1869, decimal notes were also issued denominated in centavos, with 100 centavos for each peso. In 1881, the peso was pegged to the US dollar at par. The currency continued to be issued only in paper form until 1915, when the first coins were issued.
In 1960, the peg to the US dollar was replaced by one to the Soviet ruble (at that time 1 US dollar was worth exactly 4 Soviet rubles). The peso lost value because of the United States embargo against Cuba and the suspension of the sugar quota. The suspension was the main economic force driving Cuba to seek out a new economic partner, the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the peso lost much of its value with the exchange rate falling to 125 pesos to the US dollar. Recently, it has become more valuable and fluctuated between 23 and 25 pesos to the US dollar.
In 1993, during the period of economic austerity known as the Special Period, the US dollar was made legal tender to encourage hard currency to enter the economy. The US dollar was the currency used to purchase some non-essential goods and services, such as cosmetics, and even staple kinds of food and drink. In 1994, the convertible peso was introduced at a par with the US dollar. On November 8, 2004, the Cuban government withdrew US dollars from circulation, citing the need to retaliate against further US sanctions.
In 1897 and 1898, pesos were issued by revolutionary forces promoting independence. In 1915, cupro-nickel 1, 2 and 5 centavos, silver 10, 20 and 40 centavos and 1 peso, and gold 1, 2, 4, 5, 10 and 20 peso coins were introduced. These coins were designed by Charles E. Barber, who also designed the Barber dimes, quarters, half dollars for the US. The coins were minted at the US mint at Philadelphia. The gold coins and 2 centavos were not produced after 1916, with the large star design 1 peso ceasing production in 1934. A new silver peso showing a woman, representing the Cuban Republic, beneath a star (the "ABC peso") was issued from 1934 to 1939. Finally, a centennial of Jose Marti commemorative peso (also minted in 50, 25, and 1 centavos denominations) was produced in 1953.
Brass 1 and 5 centavos were issued in 1943, and with copper nickel composition sporadically from 1915 to 1958. Beginning in 1915, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 40 centavos coins were occasionally minted. The last 10, 20, and 40 centavo coins were produced in 1952; these were commemorative issues celebrating the fiftieth year of the republic. As mentioned above, in 1953, silver 25 and 50 centavos commemorative coins were also issued. These were the last silver coins issued for circulation. The last US produced coin was the 1961 five centavo piece.
In 1962, cupro-nickel 20 and 40 centavos were introduced, followed, in 1963, by aluminium 1 and 5 centavos. In 1969, aluminium 20 centavos were introduced, followed by aluminium 2 centavos and brass 1 peso in 1983. Cupro-nickel 3 peso coins were introduced in 1990, with brass-plated-steel 1 peso and nickel-clad-steel 3 peso coins following in 1992. 40 centavo coins were withdrawn from circulation around July 2004 and are no longer accepted as payment. In 2017, the Banco Central de Cuba introduced bi-metallic 5 pesos coin (the difference is the denomination and composition (with a cupronickel ring and a brass center plug). Coins currently in circulation are 1, 2, 5 and 20 centavos and 1, 3 and 5 pesos.
Between 1988 and 1989, the National Institute of Tourism (Instituto Nacional de Turismo, "INTUR") issued "Visitors Coinage" for use by tourists. In 1981, cupro-nickel 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavos and 1 peso were introduced, followed in 1988 by aluminium 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavos. The INTUR coins were demonetized on October 15, 2001 and were replaced by fractional convertible pesos in 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 centavos and 1 peso, minted in Canada. In late 2004, a 5 convertible peso coin, dated 1999, was placed into circulation.