In Cuba, the dollar is king … for those who find it

Havana | At the entrance of a store in Cuba, this sign: “CUC (convertible pesos) are not accepted”. As monetary unification approaches, everyone on the island wants dollars, but they still have to be found.

“Out of the 11 million inhabitants, if for example a million can buy in dollars, what happens to the others? I don’t have any family abroad ”to send the precious greenbacks, thundered Aleskis Rodriguez, 31, who queued up to buy coffee in CUC, in a Havana market that still accepts them.

Since 1994, Cubans have been juggling between the CUC, aligned with the dollar, and the CUP, which is worth 24 times less. While the first will soon be phased out and the second risks being strongly devalued, they are turning to a third currency, considered more solid: the dollar.

Deprived of tourists due to the pandemic and weakened by American sanctions, the island, ruled by the Communists since 1959, needs foreign currency more than ever.

In this country which imports 80% of what it consumes, the dollar, whose possession of a few banknotes in your pocket could be worth imprisonment until 1993 (it then circulated freely until 2004), therefore his big comeback.

It is only in this currency, and by bank card linked to a local account opened for the occasion, that we can now buy in certain food, appliance and auto parts stores.

No miracle

The government thus recovers the currencies spent via these accounts, which some Cubans supply with dollars transferred by their families abroad. But the majority of the inhabitants must look for the currency on the island.

Find dollars at the bank or at an exchange office? Impossible mission. The only solution: the black market, where demand has increased its price to 1.50 CUC, much more than its official value (1 CUC).

If the Central Bank has denied the rumor of a disappearance of the CUC in October, the appeal of the greenback remains strong, because many Cubans, whose salary – the equivalent of $ 40 per month – is paid in CUP, note that dollar stores are better stocked.

But in the face of widespread shortages, there is no miracle, as witness Niurka Romero, a 50-year-old housewife who leaves one of these shops.

“I hardly bought anything and spent $ 30.90, it’s very expensive,” she sighs, showing in her tote 10 small fruit juice, 5 packets of spaghetti and five briquettes. tomato puree.

For Pavel Vidal, Cuban economist from the Javeriana University of Cali (Colombia), this redollarization of the economy is first of all an admission of failure by the authorities, the reflection of reforms “incomplete and well below expectations”.

“Worst moment”

By dint of waiting for the ideal moment to launch monetary unification – the most necessary reform according to experts – the government, cornered by the circumstances, will do so at the “worst moment”, he underlines, with “a significant devaluation of the official exchange rate ”.

By announcing the opening of dollar stores, the Minister of the Economy Alejandro Gil had promised that it was not a question of creating an “economic apartheid” but of satisfying the demand of a sector of the population at its height. purchasing power.

Zoila Rodriguez, a 75-year-old retiree who receives a monthly pension of 280 CUP ($ 12), is clearly not one of them. She just has to hope that her granddaughter sends her some US dollars.

“If she sent me money, I wouldn’t change it (in CUC), I would go to Miramar (dollar store district, editor’s note), even if it’s only 30 or 40 (dollars), j ‘would have enough to buy a few small things,’ she finds herself dreaming.

Whatever the currency, one thing does not change in the daily life of Cubans: long lines. “I’ve been here since 5:15 am, it’s 11:30 am, but they are already closing the store and I will have to come back tomorrow to buy my coffee,” laments Magalis, a 52-year-old teacher.

According to her, the government is not doing enough to limit the queues during this pandemic period: “If Commander Fidel Castro (who died in 2016, note) was still alive, he would have done something beautiful for the people.”

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