Cuba’s Currencies: CUP and CUC vs. USD

By Safie M. Gonzalez

The new well stocked US Dollar stores.

HAVANA TIMES – If there was something people couldn’t talk about when I was a little girl, it was the dollar. Only foreigners could buy things in this currency. If anyone was caught with green bills in their pocket, they would be sent to jail.

Soon after, in 1993, the dollar was decriminalized, and finally, Cubans with family members living abroad could receive financial aid.

Then, the CUC (Convertible Cuban Peso) came along, which is nothing but another official currency in our country. That was when the three currencies – CUP, CUC and USD – began to circulate. The State opened new stores, where you could only purchase items in CUC and USD.

Soon after, the CUC gradually began to replace the US dollar, and the latter finally stopped circulating.

Such meats have dissappeared from the CUP and CUC stores but are nicely packed at the US Dollar stores.

Up until very recently, just a couple of years, you could only buy things in these markets or stores in CUC, but, today, you can pay with both of the national currencies. This means to say that if you are going to buy a bottle of cooking oil, which costs 1.95 CUC, then you can pay for it in this currency or its equivalent in CUP, which in the case of cooking oil would be 50 CUP.

Everything was going relatively well… well, at least most of the population was able to buy goods in one of these two currencies, but then the pandemic came with its disastrous aftershocks.

It just so happens that the Cuban Government has decided to incorporate the dollar into the economy again, as a “strategy” to recover economically; but, where does the US dollar come from? Who has access to it?

Soap, detergent and other personal hygiene products can also be found at the dollar stores.

Well, a few months ago, some bank cards were allowed in Cuba which family members living abroad (for those that have one) can transfer foreign currency into them, and then Cubans on the island could and can buy electrical appliances from certain stores. That said, during this post-COVID phase, when we clearly need to recover “as a country”, the Government has opened up 72 stores (out of the 4,000 that exist on the island) where payment can only be made in MLC (Freely Convertible Currency, so as not to say dollars).

Many people have expressed their disagreement and there have been protests because, well first of all: No Cuban worker is paid in dollars, and secondly: Not every Cuban has family living abroad who can help them buy basic essentials.

If all stores were well-stocked, I’m sure there wouldn’t be that many complaints and people disagreeing, but this isn’t the case because while stores in CUC and CUP are empty, these new stores are full. Conclusions? Well, that the scales aren’t exactly tipped in the favor of those most in need.

Tomato paste is a very sought after product now absent at Cuba’s CUC and CUP stores but stocked at the new US Dollar stores. However do note that in Cuba the shelves are stocked horizontally to mask the lack of products for sale, even in the Dollar stores.

Safie M. Gonzalez

I was born in the 80's. I love nature and animals, as well as my country. I admire the sacrifice of a people. I consider myself a simple and honest person, therefore I detest injustices. I have a taste for the arts in general, but especially for literature, photography, and cinema. I believe in the power of the word and in the ability of the human being to change the world.

19 thoughts on “Cuba’s Currencies: CUP and CUC vs. USD

  • It is occasionally amusing, and sometimes relevant, but it’s also a turn-off to constantly read certain commenters competing about who is more ‘Cuban’. Among those who are ‘married to a Cuban’, ex-pats, etc.

    Like all good deeds, some of the value is in the things given–money, food, supplies–and some is in the connection that grows between hearts. If all a Canadian tourist (or any visitor) brings is tip money, well that is something. If they bring supplies, nice. If they learn, and start to understand and grow more, even better. That is what makes travel valuable. If any traveler wields their tip money like a tool to wring servile or deferential behavior out of the experience and the Cuban people…well that just speaks to who that person is, not so much to a whole country’s tourists.

    Obviously staying at resorts gives one a warped view of any culture. It’s a fantasy land. I guess to each his/her own. But it amazes me that more people don’t seek out the warm and unique experiences that can be found in the homes and in the welcoming hospitality of social encounters with Cuban people all over the island. From my experiences, those who venture out are changed forever and fall in love.

  • If Canadians stay home you will have no tourists to fill your hotels! How is this going to help your economy? It’s enough that we get 67 cents for our dollar there and now you are insulting us for no reason. Maybe we should all stay home and watch tourism in your country completely disappear, I’m sure this would really help you!!!!!

  • I am a Canadian and have travelled to Cuba a few times and love the country and the people. Our last trip (Feb – Mar 2020) was about five weeks long and we travelled nearly tip to tip on the island. I must disagree, however, with one writer’s contention that Canadians are well educated when it comes to the Cuban economic and political situation. Most are not. Many of us do have a better idea of how difficult life can be outside of the resorts. A good understand comes from talking with regular Cubans who work and live outside of the tourist areas. We met a Canadian couple on our last trip that had been to Cuban ten times, each of their trips to the resorts in and around Guardalava. They had never ventured out of the resort areas, and their bus ride into the city (Hoguin) was their first look at a place where they were not served and spoiled. I could tell in our brief exchange that their “education” on Cuba was going to be an eye opener. But having said that many travelling Canadians love Cuba, its history and its people. And we try to learn more and more each time we go.

  • Well hal, if you believe that Canadians know all about Cuba, just read Stephen’s contribution above!

    To suggest that Canadians in general are “educated to the problems the Cuban people suffer” is frankly baloney.

    I like you, am married to a Cuban and our home is in Cuba where I spend the majority of my time, and have traveled the country extensively, from the statue of Christopher Colon at Baracoa, to the Roncali lighthouse at the tip of the Guanahacabibes peninsula.

    As Cuba is home, and as my wife has a busy professional life, I am accustomed to the daily requirements of going to the panderia, enquiring who is ultimo and following a wait of up to forty minutes, eventually clutching a couple of 200 gm loaves – a big purchase of 10 pesos for a Cuban family living on 25 – 40 pesos per day. Then visiting the Cimex store to see what – if anything, has come in that day and possibly an additional visit to the Pan Americana.

    In the late afternoon, I take the dog for a walk, passing through a supposed residential area, where fit young people can be seen whiling away their time playing chess, and where pigs are kept in the tiny backyards behind homes described by Stephen as “shacks” along with a cockerel, a few hens and a poor mutt tied all day to a barrel. Others bark from the roof tops or wander the streets seeking food amidst the basura.

    For entertainment we fortunately are able to afford to visit La Casa de la Musica and enjoy wonderful music. In such typical days, I see not a single tourist – not even a Canadian one being “educated to the problems the Cuban people suffer.”

    So, as one with a second home in Canada and having fairly deep knowledge of the tourism industry related to Canadians in particular, I can but agree with Stephen’s observations, and repeat my previous comment.

    When writing the book hal, I did not have to make “assumptions” about Cuba. I wrote from actual observation, research and knowledge acquired from discussions with a wide range of Cubans. I wrote for those who seek deeper knowledge of the country and its politics, not for those who already imagine that they know the reality.

  • In the farmers markets, once called the “black market” fruits, spices, vegetables, tomatoe sauce and pork, chicken was available in the currency Cubans were paid in national pesos. These markets of delicious fresh foods still exist. Also most people have access to local gardens (organic) with spinach, beets, lettuce, green beans, strawberries all in its season, also all in Cuban pesos. Also there are eggs, a bun, tobacco etc.. in gov ration stores. So these new us dollar stores and the over valued cuban peso stores with frozen beef, chicken , veggie oil in $40 plastic jugs, fine glasses, silverware etc etc are mostly imported, and we all know imported items are not cheap with tarrifs etc… i wouldn’t shop in these types of stores when i have markets, gardens and things i can buy locally. If Cuban reopened manufacturing and distribution to make all essentials possible that is the answer. Sometimes im in one city and oranges are everywhere i go to another none site. I live in our home in Cuba throughout the year, i buy local we have a few fruit trees and trade with our neighbours. We bring extra shoes, underwear, toothbrushes and a bit of foreign currency- like most tourists We have what we need and for things we crave Cubans are resourceful they dont go without much. Mostly, we’re asked to recharge cell phones to use Facebook. We are rarely asked to help buy fruit veggies meat beans or rice – true?

  • How about the Castro’s and the Canel and the communist leave Cuba and it will be one currency and free people to be able to do their own business ,to travel, to eat whatever they want, to buy whatever they want it’s been over 60 years if sufferings, no more viva Cuba libre.

  • This article is the closest to reality I’ve read online in the last year. That being said it’s not quite that simple. In the last year or so I’ve read so many articles about Cuba, written by someone who is not cuban, talking about how other countries and governments should follow Cuba’s example in Covid 19 response. PLEASE stop believing the lies. Cuban government doesn’t respond to Cuban people interests, they are a dictatorship! They only care about the monies sent to Cubans, who are not allowed out of the communist country, from their relatives living abroad. They divide families this way, forcing them to keep their family feed and clothed in Cuba because the regime is incapable of producing anything at all. Also cuban medicine is not what they claim it to be, just Google: Cuban hospitals. You wouldn’t believe your eyes. Doctors sent abroad are a way of infiltrating communist propaganda in countries such as Venezuela, Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, etc… Venezuela being the worst so far. Not to mention that doctors sent on this “missions” are considered modern slaves. Don’t travel to Cuba, because when you do you support the continued oppression and hardship of the common Cuban citizen. I’ll leave you with this open question for your reflection: What must a political party do to stay in power for 61 years? And what political party has more victims, Fascism or Communism? Thank you for reading

  • Mr. McDuff as usual you make an assumption when you have no facts! I have a Cuban wife and have travelled to Cuba for 25 years. I’m reasonably well read on the history of Cuba as well I have travelled the country extensively. Since you make mistakes by assuming I would say that your book is probably much of the same!

    One more thing Mr. McDuff, I spend as much time in Cuba that the Canadian Gov. will allow. If I could I would move there permanently. I can not speak for all Canadians, for those that I know, there are aware of what is happening in Cuba!

  • From my experience speaking with Canadian tourists on any airplane who are on their way for a two week vacation at a Cuban resort as repeat customers or first timers, or have just completed their short sojourn to a Cuban resort and are returning home, have absolutely no idea about the sufferings, trials, tribulations that a totalitarian state can impose on its people, in this case the ordinary Cuban.

    How can they being cocooned within a luxurious resort for a week or two, interacting with trained Cuban tourist hospitality persons speaking their language, soaking in the sun poolside all day, feasting on a food smorgasbord of unimaginable proportions for an ordinary Cuban to even fathom, and then ending the day entertained by professional Cuban musicians and dancers providing live spectacular shows. That is Cuba but not the real Cuba.

    This is what Canadian tourists are exposed to and some, to add insult to injury, even have the gull to complain on their return to Canada that the food at the hotel was bland, lacked variety, tasteless, you name your negative adjective.

    On the plane just before landing in Canada tired tourists speaking with their seat mates some are overheard exclaiming their first meal off the plane is to run to the local fast food joint for a “Canadian hamburger with fries and a Coke.”

    No, Canadian tourists are not educated to the problems the majority of Cubans suffer. Unless the Canadian tourist resides with a Cuban family for a week or two perhaps then the Canadian may get a glimpse of how a totalitarian state operates, but by only a sliver.

    Some Canadians compassionately bring supplies to be given out freely to their Cuban friends at the hotels or at other locations. That is a good thing.

    For Canadian tourists to be truly educated about what is transpiring in Cuba they need to fully interact and engage with ordinary Cubans; however, that is forbidden, again the totalitarian state syndrome, hence tourists receive a façade of true reality.

  • hal wellman is more than optimistic when writing that Canadians are educated to the problems the Cuban people suffer.” In general – and including many of those who have taken package tours, Canadians don’t have a clue about most of the problems the Cuban people suffer. His view only substantiates that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    Those Canadians who know me and have read my book, have often expressed disbelief about those described problems. But five years ago, another long time contributor to these pages, challenged others to find any factual error within the book, To date there have been none!

  • Sorry but a litre of cooking oil is about 10 cuc during covid..not..2..helping one cuban usually helps 5 or ten..thats the way they are so to stay home and not help is just nonsense

  • The tourist industry is so important to those who work in it. Canadians are loved by all who work for the tourist industry. Not just because they are very generous but because they are educated to the problems the Cuban people suffer. This comment has nothing to do with the article but when i read a comment that comes from left field and is so wrong I’m obligated to say something.
    As for the article the monetary system is leaving a large portion of the Cuban population out of the newly opened stores in favor of those with USD, CAD, URO, All of the products available instore could be made available to all citizens. The store could just as easily sell in CUC or CUP. I’m not an economist so I can’t say what the reason is for this type of store. I can speculate that it would be to gather as much foreign money as they can. Maybe someone can tell me why.

  • “. . . where payment can only be made in MLC (Freely Convertible Currency, so as not to say dollars.”

    “Freely Convertible Currency” is that not “doublespeak” for anyone reading this article that the informed reader immediately forget, in fact abolish, from their minds and their vocabulary what transpired in the past because the past does not exist and welcome to the newly created reality where the comrades at the Ministry of Money will have every Cuban believe they are better off today using currency – American dollars – once banned, moreover, if caught in possession with jail time. Orwellian or what?

    It’s a complete joke if it wasn’t so blatantly sad and depressing for the ordinary Cuban who must rely on a pay check in CUC or CUP to properly feed their families and are not allowed to purchase anything in these newly minted bourgeoisie shops. As the article states those lucky few who have relatives/friends abroad who can send foreign currency will be economically viable but all the rest, unfortunately, will continue to suffer.

    Exactly what the Revolution was suppose to stamp out – inequality among the masses – is becoming more and more unachievable as the totalitarian state titillates to its people all kinds of unsupportable, unacceptable, and imaginary economic experiments which ultimately fail.

    Absolutely, ordinary Cubans need to raise their ire and remind their totalitarian state authorities about the Revolutionary undemocratic bargain enacted in 1959: we accept the dictates of the Revolution and the Revolution will supply us with daily sustenance while in return the ordinary Cuban gives up their freedom.

    Well, the ordinary Cubans on the street for the past 60 plus years have certainly lived up to their end of the undemocratic bargain; however, it is quiet obvious the incompetent, mismanaged, authoritarian elites have not.

  • Patrick, That was a reader comment not part of the article.

  • Forgive my confusion. Why at the end of the article are canadians mentioned ? Asked not to come to the country ? The resort workers seems very happy to earn more money for their families and accept supplies . Cuban economic stability depends on our tourism. What am I missing ?

  • There is always an ilicit market for such private exchanges, the difference is the value of the CUC is trending down. So the dollar will get you a little more Cuban currency.

  • Could the Castros be more obvious in their willingness to trade the well-being of the average Cuban for greater access to foreign currency?

  • Is it hard to exchange CUC to USD now ? I’ve been to Cuba many times and had no problem with it.

  • Very Sad for the everyday Cuban Family & Our Anger will come out on the Streets when there is only so much US Dollars to go around. The Haves & The Have Not,s will Divide Cuba as Never Before, Just a Guess. Not happy thinking or Watching Cuban Family,s in the Shopping Lines that Go For Hour,s & Longer if they Survive by tag teaming together as a Family. Better if Canadians Just Stay Home & stopped Creating More Problems with there Helping Others. Interference.

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