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.

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