Crisis Even Hits Cuba’s Dollar Stores

A line this Monday outside the US dollar store on Boyeros and Camagüey streets, in Havana. (14ymedio)

By Juan Diego Rodríguez (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES — Not a year has passed since their opening and the stores that sell food and cleaning products in US dollars are already going through a crisis. Little supply and very long lines mark the days in the most criticized shops in the country, the only ones, however, that still have more than a dozen products on their shelves.

“It is not worth coming here, among the resellers and the shortage of supplies, this looks like a bodega,” as the ration stores are called, a customer told 14ymedio, this Monday, while waiting on the outskirts of the market that sells in US dollars on San Rafael Street in Havana. “I arrived at 5:15 in the morning and the line was was doubled back. Where were so many people going out to if the curfew is until five?”

The markets in dollars have become the new modus vivendi of thousands of Cubans who have a magnetic card with foreign currency. They buy grains, meat products, dairy products and preserves that they then resell in the informal market. Eager customers pay others to wait for them in the long lines, to avoid contagion by Covid-19 and also because they don’t have access to hard currency.

“They are out of stock, but if you compare them with the stores that sell in Cuban pesos, they seem luxurious,” a customer reflects on the outskirts of the Boyeros and Camagüey markets. “Everyone who has gone out today, the only thing they have is peas and malt, but I’m here because I need to buy yogurt and flour,” he says. “A few years ago I didn’t have to stand in a line for beef, but now you have to stand in line even for bouillon cubes.”

The resellers do not use the official exchange rate for the dollar, set at 1 in 24, but instead are guided by the price of the fulas [dollars] in the informal market. “People complain that the merchandise is expensive but I’m selling this large can of concentrated tomato puree for 800 pesos because it costs me about 18 dollars, plus a whole morning. I put the dollar at 47 CUP [Cuban pesos] so I’m almost giving away the merchandise.”

Currency stores have caused deep discontent among broad social sectors. Faced with the avalanche of popular complaints about the social differences that these markets deepen, the Minister of Economy, Alejandro Gil, tried to calm things down last December and assured that the opening of foreign currency stores for the sale of food and cleaning products was “a decision of social justice and socialism.”

“An undersupplied market does not attract foreign currency,” the minister explained then, referring to what many Cubans have classified as a “monetary apartheid” that divides society between those who have dollars to buy products in these shops and those who must meet their needs in the network of stores that sell in national currency.

However, to the same extent that a large part of Cuban society criticizes the opening of these shops, others have seen their resources grow, serving as a bridge between merchandise in dollars and anxious customers who cannot find these products in the stores that sell in Cuban pesos or convertible pesos.

“Call me for more details on what I’m getting tomorrow. Top-notch merchandise from the dollar stores,” reads an ad. “Leave the Line to me and avoid leaving the house, from the market to your table,” adds the classified. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” specifies the short text that invites you to follow “the offers on WhatsApp.”

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

3 thoughts on “Crisis Even Hits Cuba’s Dollar Stores

  • My heart goes out to the Cuban people.

  • Returning to Cuba for the shortest time possible for less impact on their foods shortages. Take food you can survive on for your stay & that way you are not taking from the Cuban children that are now so very Hungry. Supplies as Soap, Shampoo, Toothpaste & brushes with any food that will last in the heat. 46 Kg. of supplies can go a long way & then Get Out with as little impact as possible, Very Fragile Times with a change never seen before. Each Nov. I would land in Cuba & with in the first week purchase dry food supplies, aprox 200$ worth would carry a family near 6 months with fresh fruit & Vegies extra cost. Now is through the $ roof if even possible to find. Water treatment & safe drinking water will be difficult as all is failing when the tourist chain has stopped & restarted again, Just some things to consider, Cuba is in Need of food & health aid, They don,t need your $$$. unless you are helping get them out of the Country.

  • Hard times for many during this pandemic as tourist often brought hygiene products amongst other to share with the Cuban people. Now that we are confined and unable to travel this has been cut that off and no doubt has had an impact. When we are able to travel and share again, what will be the most important things or items for us to bring?

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