Cuba: The Hard Currency Store in Sancti Spiritus Hasn’t Opened Yet and There is Already a Line

Cans of tuna, tomato sauce, pasta, fruit juices, honey, rum and wine are for sale, but only in dollars. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 24 May 2021 — Faces glued to the windows and eyebrows raised after reading the prices, is the reaction of many residents of the city of Sancti Spíritus when they pass in front of the Quinto Siglo store, the most recent of the markets in that province that has switched from offering their products in Cuban pesos to requiring payment in freely convertible currency (MLC).

In the city, which is experiencing strict commercial restrictions due to shortages and the pandemic, there were only two important stores that still accepted payment in Cuban pesos. The penultimate of these stores has just succumbed to “the green wave” of dollar-only sales. Although it has not yet opened its doors, the merchandise that will be offered in MLC is already visible through the windows.

“With these prices, who can buy here? Chickpeas at $17.24 a five-kilogram bag, lentils at $11 and a bag of milk for $40. This looks more like a boutique than a basic goods store,” a woman from Sancti Spíritus lamented on Monday morning, after having come to the place when she heard the rumors of its upcoming opening. “The prices are very high and they sell a lot of products in large packages, but people don’t have those amounts to pay at one time.”

“The store has not opened yet, because they continue to prepare it but people are already lining up to get on the lists and everything,” a retiree who patrols the place in search of new customers tells 14ymedio. He warns people that they should “write down their name in a notebook around the corner, to guarantee a turn.” Hundreds of registrants have already put their names on the list, although the opening date has not yet been announced.

Inside the premises you can see many of the products that have disappeared from the stores that sell in Cuban pesos: cans of tuna, tomato sauce, pasta, fruit juices, honey, rum and wine. “This is like going to a museum of the past, a few years ago this was what there was in any neighborhood shopping that sold in Cuban pesos or convertible pesos, but now it is only for those who have dollars,” lamented a customer who “got on the list three days ago.”

“If someone had told me that at this point I was going to be lining up for several days to buy some Castile flour, I would have laughed in his face,” says the woman. “But now I am not only waiting, I even feel privileged to have the dollars that my brother sends me from Miami to be able to shop here.”

“People have no doubts: in another year everything will be sold in dollars or it won’t be for sale,” she says. “I hope I’m not here to check it out: if I’m going to pay in the US currency, I’d be better off doing it there.” As she speaks, at least two more people have stuck their faces to the glass to look into the interior of Fifth Century, and the gestures of the reaction are repeated: most of them start out with a curious look, and end up walking away with indignation.


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