14ymedio, Havana, 6 October 2020 — Coffee, sugar, rum, and tobacco have for decades been emblematic of Cuba, but some of these products have disappeared or must now be imported. Cuban coffee, that star of story and song, is now unavailable in the stores, while its appearance abroad may be a false sighting.
While buying Cubita brand coffee on the Island becomes an almost “mission impossible” — missing as it is from the shelves and priced out of range for most local pockets — social media images abound of supermarkets in the US, Canada, and other countries where packages supposedly of the Cubita brand of Cuban coffee are for sale at very low prices.
These images provoked the indignation of Cuban shoppers because the product is being sold abroad at prices lower than those offered in stores on the Island. While a 250-gram package costs 3.45 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) and the kilo-size costs 16.35 CUC — the equivalent of almost half the monthly salary (the equivalent in Cuban pesos (CUP) of 35 CUC) — it appears to be sold in other countries at a 30% lower price.
Cimex, the Cuban military’s conglomerate that distributes the product, boasted this past Monday on Twitter that the original brand “is registered in one hundred countries, where it is in turn marketed.” They did so to alert their clients that for several weeks “the sale of knock-offs and counterfeits being sold online by one of the e-commerce giants has been circulating on social networks.”
The group, while not mentioning Amazon.com by name, recounts that at first they sold the product in “the territory of the United States (Miami)” and that now it is extended to Canada, one of the countries to which the Cuban state-run conglomerate exports Cubita.
The corporation goes on to explain “how to identify genuinely Cuban coffee that is being marketed in Canada” so that the public “is able to recognize the original brand and not be affected by this vile plagiarization.”
Social media users reacted with an avalanche of reproaches to Cimex for selling the coffee abroad while the Island’s own stores have run out of it. “It is incredible that when the MLC (freely convertible currency) stores are inaugurated, there is Spanish coffee. And that Cuban coffee is in Canada. What economy can be sustained this way? The truth is, I do not understand it,” lamented Lucía María in a Tweet.
Indeed, this same week, the only coffee for sale at the Boyeros y Camagüey store in Havana was the Gourmet brand. According to the information on the package, this coffee comes from Spain, a country that does not grow this crop. Also, the type of coffee used, whether arabica — or the lower-quality robusta — is not identified.
This past July, the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, in a long report on the future of Cuba’s coffee production, reassured the public that the country plans to increase coffee production to 30,000 tons in 2030 and that it is one of the country’s main export items.
According to the official press, Cuban beans are in high demand because of the aroma of the arabica variety, which is the one grown on this Island. Mostly harvested in the eastern part of the country, arabica is exported at almost $8,000 per ton, mainly to Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. According to the Cuban government’s forecasts, about 10,000 tons were to be exported in 2020.
However, before the current shortage of supplies, Cubita had lost some of its favor among Cubans. Other national brands, such as El Arriero, Serrano, and Caracolillo, are more popular — but just as unattainable during the current crisis.
Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison
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