Fighting for Customer Rights in Cuba

Jimmy Roque Martinez

Satisfied customers return to shop.

HAVANA TIMES – The rights of consumers are constantly trampled in Cuba. Currently, no customer protection law exists, though there is talk one is being developed and will be approved this year.

What’s certain is that there is no information about the process available and that no one is being consulted about it. To date, all we’ve had in terms of customer protection are the so-called “Rights and Responsibilities of the Customer,” as I was able to personally verify at the Ministry of Domestic Commerce.

The approval of a new law would not guarantee real protection, as it would be people (not legislation or the State) who would be responsible for ensuring their integrity is not violated – and a certain degree of political consciousness is needed for that.

The rights of Cuban customers and service users are violated when they are dispensed less of a product than what they pay for, when they receive no information about where the food they buy comes from (I am thinking about genetically modified products most of all), when low-quality products are offered them, sometimes at the same price of a top-quality item or when a clerk or employee neglects them.

These rights can also be violated when a work or services contract is drawn up. In the specific case of contracts entered into by individuals and the State, there is no negotiation in Cuba: either one accepts what the State decides or one does not receive the service.

Another way in which customer rights can be violated has to do with the warranty term of some products or the lack of such warranties for many products. The list of violations and mistreatment goes on and on.

In view of this, a group of citizens has created the Protected Customers and Users (CUP) project, to monitor, look into and make demands in connection with these and other violations that take place in the State and private sectors. Part of our work also consists in trying to offer solutions to some of these problems.

Demand your plastic bag with your purchase.
Demand your plastic bag and your receipt with your purchase.

Our objectives include promoting new rights, regulating advertisement and offers aimed at the public, reporting on abusive practices and fighting against institutional and private impunity, as well as demanding basic quality guarantees for goods, services and consumer products.

We also seek to develop alternative quality control mechanisms that are independent of State regulatory institutions, encourage the participation of users and consumers in the establishment of agreements between producers and suppliers of goods and services and the public.

We will also be receiving and publishing complaints and suggestions from users and customers. At our blog,, people will be able to learn of our activities and proposals, and read related texts from other groups or individuals.

To date, we have had an active exchange with the Empresa Electrica Provincial de la Habana (Havana Provincial Electric Company) and Coppelia ice-cream parlor, two Cuban institutions that are a telling example of mistreatment and inefficiency.

We hope other citizens will join this project, with which we seek to learn to protect our rights. Let us not forget that we are all consumers.

3 thoughts on “Fighting for Customer Rights in Cuba

  • Cuban law imposes a 400% mark-up on TVs, electric motorcycles, and a long list of other “luxury” items.

  • There is a displayed notice in the military owned stores in Cuba, TRD, Cimex etc that sell in CUC (and now also in pesos) listing customer rights. I have not observed similar notices in the stores like Pan Americana selling only in pesos.
    In general food and higher priced items are sold in the stores where payment was until last year made in CUCs and lower quality goods in the stores like Pan Americana frequented by Cubans not by tourists.
    Regarding pricing, as a generalization non-food items are sold with a very high mark-up. Example, a 40″ TV costs about a CUC 1,000 whereas the equivalent TV can be bought in Canada for $400.
    Regarding customer guarantees, there is the example of electric motorcycles similar to the Vespa in appearance. Virtually all the CUC stores in our city (even those which sell food) were stocking electric motorcycles three years ago generally for about 1,100 CUC with a one year guarantee. Cubans used their savings to make what often was the largest purchase of a lifetime.and proudly drove their newly acquired property.
    However, 18 to 24 months later the batteries would require replacing. Cost about 300 CUC – about one years earnings for the average Cuban. But there was another problem even if they had the required 300 CUC. No batteries.
    In consequence there are far fewer electric motorcycles on the road than there were two and a half years ago.
    One can speculate that one reason for the dearth of batteries is that the military realised that charging the motorcycle batteries was using a lot of subsidized electricity although in Cuba there is a rising charge per unit for the monthly electricity bill – the reverse of a capitalist society where normally the more one purchases the lower the cost per unit.
    It will be very surprising if Jimmy Roque Martinez and his colleagues succeed in persuading the military to change or adapt their sales guarantee policy. If I were a bookmaker, I would put the odds at between zero and nothing. In Cuba, it is the state and the military that have rights, not the individual.

  • A fine line between complaining about service and other government functions. In a country where talking can get you time in prison, not a great idea to speak up when the state workers trample your rights.

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