14ymedio, Havana, 14 July 2020 — Cuba’s government-owned hard currency stores will now market food and hygiene products, as confirmed by 14ymedio sources from the state corporation Cimex. Most provincial capitals are currently preparing premises to operate in freely convertible currency including the sale of these basic necessities.
“In the city of Sancti Spíritus the state markets selling in Cuban pesos and hard currency have little on the shelves, there are only bottles of water and rum, but the two largest stores in the city are closed and preparing to open with products for sale in freely convertible currency,” says Maikel, a resident of the city.
“Through the windows, you can already see the shelves of these well stocked stores filled with toiletries, such as soaps, gels, shampoo and deodorants; there are also foods that have not reached the other stores in a while,” added the native of Espiritu. “People are concerned that now you have to have dollars to buy food.”
The so-called convertible currency stores began to open late last year in an attempt by the Cuban government to collect income from abroad, given the lack of liquidity in the national economy. In this trade network, cash is not accepted, only magnetic cards issued by state banks.
Initially these premises were tested in Havana with the marketing of high-end appliances such as split air conditioners, flat screen TVs, washing machines, parts for vehicles and electric motorcycles. These options were expanded in February of this year, when cars, PCs, laptops, computer parts and pieces, security systems, electric generators, heaters, cold storage, minibars, range hoods, and lawn mowers were included in the products for sale.
But until now, toiletries and food have not been offered in this network of hard currency stores. “Little by little, new stores will be incorporated and the assortment will be expanded to other products and supplies,” a source from the Cimex Corporation, the state group managed by the military that is in charge of this type of sales, confirmed to this newspaper.
“Anyone who has a bank account, deposits currency or receives it and has their magnetic card will be able to buy in these stores, as they have been up to now. The novelty is that they will now have a broader catalog of merchandise,” adds the Cimex employee.
In Santiago de Cuba, customers also maintain that several stores, in the most central streets of the city, are currently closed for conversion into convertible currency stores as are others that are already operating under that system. “This is how the La Plaza store is right now once it started requiring payment with bank cards,” protests a user on the social network Facebook.
The customer published an image of the store with the shelves full of hygiene products that are barely found in the network of markets in national or Cuban convertible pesos. “It is a tremendous lack of respect that we have to risk our health standing in line for hours to buy soap in the Caribe Chain of Stores to pay in chavitos [Cuban convertible pesos] and that this is so easy if you have dollars,” laments Lydia Esther, another Internet user, indignant.
“We are going to open to the public next week with an offer of furniture, toiletries and food, the appliances will be sold in another store also in convertible currency,” confirmed by telephone an employee of the Management of the La Plaza Shopping Center. “We are now in the final preparations to train staff and implement the entire card payment system.”
“At first, there will also be limited quantities that each customer can buy of each product to avoid hoarding,” adds the worker, who confirms that frozen foods, canned foods, and a wide variety of cereals and sauces will be sold.
A practice that has spread among the customers of these stores is the informal “rental” of the card required for payment. This is an informal transaction between individuals which allows consumers who do not have a foreign currency bank account to shop in the store. They pay the owner of the hard currency bank card a percentage of the total amount of the purchase. This informal business could be extended in the coming weeks when the number of stores of this type grows significantly.
In recent months, the network of state stores has gone through moments of great shortages, long lines and rationing of the quantities that each consumer is allowed to buy.
In addition to the use of magnetic cards in US dollars in the state’s network of retail stores in the country and in the importing of merchandise through official entities, the authorities recently allowed non-residents on the Island to open accounts in convertible currency that they can use on the same conditions as those applied to residents.
For decades, the possession of foreign exchange was heavily penalized in Cuba. Until its authorization in 1993, possession of a foreign currency could carry a sentence of up to four years in prison.
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