Greenback returns: How dollar stores came back to Cuba


Benito Morejón outside a dollar store in Havana

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Benito Morejón made positive to hitch the queue early

Benito Morejón arrived on the grocery store earlier than daybreak to assert a spot close to the entrance of the queue.

The grocery store in Havana is considered one of various outlets opened by the Cuban authorities on the island during which primary meals and hygiene merchandise could be paid for with the forex of its ideological enemy: the US greenback.

When the police finally opened the gates a number of hours later, he was fourth in a line that stretched again lots of of metres alongside Third Avenue in Havana’s Playa district.

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Cubans eager to top off on necessities got here armed with endurance

The queue was hardly shocking. Inside, the shop was abundantly stocked with much-needed necessities from child milk to bathe gel. Nonetheless, the catch was that the one acceptable type of fee was in a international forex.

For years, an inefficient, centrally managed financial system and a decades-long US financial embargo have made shortage and queuing common options of each day life in Cuba.

Not too long ago, although, issues have change into particularly robust.

Cuba is overly depending on imports, which account for some 80% of what the nation consumes. Regardless of largely controlling the coronavirus outbreak, lockdown has introduced tourism to a halt in Cuba and the ensuing drop in international trade earnings means fewer {dollars} to pay for imports.

Many grocery store cabinets are virtually naked.

In the meantime, the Trump administration has spent the previous 4 years ramping up the embargo and imposing harsher sanctions on delivery, journey and remittances.

To make up for the shortfall in {dollars}, the federal government took a step it might in all probability have averted underneath regular circumstances and turned 72 of the practically 5,000 state-run outlets in Cuba into “greenback shops”.

When he emerged from considered one of them, Benito Morejón struggled to push his cart, weighed down with meat, cheese, cleansing merchandise and private hygiene gadgets.

“There was no hen breast which I hoped to search out however apart from that, the selection on supply was good,” he stated from behind his facemask.

Playing cards solely

Contained in the shops, prospects don’t hand over international banknotes on the tills.

Fairly, they need to pay by card – both one linked to a Cuban checking account with deposits in a international forex or utilizing a world debit or bank card, besides these from US banks.

“I can afford to come back about as soon as a month,” stated Mr Morejón.

“I might have purchased extra however I have to deposit extra {dollars} into my account”, stated one other buyer, Leno Fernández, with a resigned snort.

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Leno Fernández would have liked to have been capable of purchase extra

Mr Fernández touched on one of many key criticisms of the measure. Critics say Cuban society is changing into more and more divided into those that are paid solely in native forex and people with entry to {dollars} or euros.

Definitely most individuals on the island should not have a daily earnings in arduous forex, particularly these with out relations overseas.

The purchasers who spoke to the BBC exterior the greenback supermarkets broadly welcomed the transfer, with Mr Morejón expressing confidence that his international forex would contribute in direction of restocking all Cuban supermarkets.

Nonetheless, others have been extra essential. “Not everybody can pay money for {dollars}, not even shut,” stated Luis Rodríguez, who was in a park close to the greenback retailer. “Nor can the state afford to start out paying the employees in {dollars}. I do not suppose that is the answer.”

“It isn’t logical for a rustic which does not pay individuals in {dollars} to be charging individuals in {dollars},” echoed his good friend, Roberto.

Made in Cuba?

To interrupt the overreliance on imports, the island’s grocery store cabinets would must be stocked with Cuban merchandise. However self-sufficiency in agricultural manufacturing stays a distant purpose.

Iris Fonseca graduated in agronomy in 1989, simply as Cuba entered a painful time of post-Chilly Struggle austerity and shortage generally known as the Particular Interval.

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Iris Fonseca thinks classes have been discovered from the Particular Interval

She spent 25 years working for the state earlier than becoming a member of Finca Vista Hermosa, a privately run natural farm exterior Havana.

Usually heralded as a mannequin of a well-run Cuban agribusiness when in comparison with the creaking inefficiency of many state-owned farms, Vista Hermosa is an exception, not the rule.

It provides the state with an annual quota of milk and cattle after which sells its cheese, pork merchandise, natural greens and fruit to personal people and eating places.

As Ms Fonseca confirmed me across the farm’s plentiful fields, she stated they have been “higher ready” for the present financial disaster than throughout the Particular Interval.

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Fields at Finca Vista Hermosa

“Again then, we made errors in cattle manufacturing, for instance,” she defined. “We produced Holstein cows for milking and with out the common containerfuls of corn, soya and wheat from the Socialist Bloc to make their feed, many animals died.”

Right this moment, they work with a special breed, the Siboney de Cuba, higher suited to the Caribbean local weather and which feeds on king grass, produced on the farm itself.

“Imports will all the time be current in Cuba”, says Ms Fonseca. “However we are able to scale back them by cultivating the land higher, enhancing our farming methods, our science and expertise.”

Again within the grocery store queues, prospects wait patiently underneath umbrellas to guard themselves from the searing solar and tropical downpours.

The Cuban authorities denies the brand new shops are a part of a wider “dollarisation” course of – that’s, turning the US greenback into the official forex as has occurred in Panama, Ecuador or El Salvador.

Maybe not. However judging by the queues exterior the banks and greenback shops, it’s quick changing into the island’s forex of selection.

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