Diplomarket, the ‘Cuban Costco’, in the Hands of a Front Man for the Regime

Diplomarket is heavily guarded: “Yes, that looks like a military unit.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Olea Gallardo, Havana, 11 October 2023 — The opening of a wholesale supermarket in Havana under the name Diplomarket in December last year went unnoticed. Only an ad on Instagram for the company, dedicated until then only to online purchases and shipping, gave an account of the opening of the establishment, located at kilometer 8 ½ of the Carretera Monumental, in the neighborhood of Berroa, more than 6 miles east of the center of the capital.

A tweet last week from Patrick Oppmann, a CNN correspondent, put the focus of current affairs on commerce. “After years of having to look for the most basic products, it’s a bit surreal to see how a private entrepreneur has set up what is basically the first Costco in Cuba,” said the journalist on the network now called X, without specifying the name of the supermarket and assuring that Cubans can pay in pesos, dollars and euros, even with U.S. credit cards.

And yes, the images that accompanied his text verified the resemblance to the American wholesale firm: huge corridors with wholesale products placed as in a warehouse, the distinctive red color and, more revealing, the sale of Kirkland brand products, marketed exclusively by Costco.

In a visit to the store this Wednesday, 14ymedio verified that, in fact, the place is similar to the Costco franchise, which is in more than a dozen countries. It is also true that the Kirkland brand populates its shelves, but no more so than Goya, the largest food company of Hispanic origin in the United States, which just three years ago was involved in a controversy for defending the then-president, Donald Trump.

It’s designed for cars, and you always see luxurious cars and the rich people who fill those huge cars

For the rest, the differences between Diplomarket and Costco are obvious. In Costco, when buying wholesale, the products are cheaper. In Diplomarket, very few customers were seen with the large packages. Most preferred to buy the items separately, at stratospheric prices: a small bottle of Goya oil for 7 dollars, a small can of grated Goya coconut for 4 dollars, a bar of soap for 2 dollars (the complete package, 16 bars, $32), toothpaste for a little more. As for cheeses and sausages, prices exceeded 20 dollars, as for a large jar of mayonnaise. Tools and household items are also offered at an unattainable price given the country’s average salary.

Diplomarket does not require a membership card, as Costco does, and is supposed to be open to any customer, but the stratospheric prices and the remoteness of the location deter any ordinary Cuban. “It’s designed for cars, and you always see luxurious cars and the rich people who fill those huge cars,” says Mayca, a young woman from Central Havana who went once with a friend who has a private food business.

The establishment is also heavily guarded. At the first checkpoint, they take the data of the vehicles at the time of entry, and then there is another booth with guards before you enter the store. At the door, two individuals look everyone up and down. A large screen shows the movement of the security cameras, placed everywhere with warnings. “Yes, that looks like a military unit,” Mayca concedes.

Inside, a kind of “persecution” by the employees begins. You are not allowed to take photos or record videos, and the workers walk behind the customers watching every movement, disguising their zeal with kindness: “Can I help you with something?”

You are not allowed to take photos or record videos, and the workers walk behind the customers watching every movement, disguising their zeal with kindness: “Can I help you with something?

Mayca says that whenever she has gone she has felt very uncomfortable: “Not only because of the vigilance but because of the humiliation with which they treat you. “A lady almost had to return the merchandise because she didn’t bring dollars and thought that everything could be paid in Cuban pesos. At the last minute she was saved by her friend, who loaned her some American bills.”

Didn’t the U.S. correspondent say that you could pay in all currencies? Doesn’t it say that in the firm’s own ad on Instagram? The cashier laughed at our reporter’s question: “That’s over, people pay in cash in dollars.”

As for the ownership of the supermarket, neither does it have the same transparency as the capitalist brand that it intends to emulate. They do not indicate on the web or on the premises any clear information about what causes the most mistrust: who actually owns Diplomarket, a gigantic, well-stocked and clean store, guarded like a government enclave?

The firm is not on the list of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) approved by the Ministry of Economy and Planning. Moreover, according to its corporate website, Diplomarket belongs to an American company called Las Américas TCC Corporation, founded in 2011 and based in Florida.

The vice president of Las Americas is the Cuban, Frank Cuspinera Medina, who is domiciled in the United States. Two years ago, his name appeared as a “specialist” in a meeting between self-employed workers (TCP) and the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba.

On that occasion, he told the Cuban News Agency that “this type of exchange allows the institutions to know first-hand the interests and needs of the TCPs” and that the official association was “an efficient way to raise the approaches presented at the meeting to the authorities in charge.”

This last firm is also not on the regime’s list of MSMEs, but a company with its name is: Cuspinera SURL LVI, dedicated to “providing e-commerce platform services

Cuspinera Medina, whose current address is in El Vedado, Havana, also appears in a letter that several Cuban entrepreneurs sent in 2021 to U.S. President Joe Biden, asking him to lift sanctions against the Government of the Island,  which were harming their businesses. In the letter he does not appear as a member of Las Américas, but as part of Iderod Servicios Constructivos.

This last firm is also not on the regime’s MSME list, but a company of the same name is: Cuspinera SURL LVI, dedicated to “providing e-commerce platform services.” It is also a branch of Las Américas TCC.

The issue is not a minor one, given the U.S. embargo against Cuba. As U.S. Treasury officials said, following a meeting of Cuban businessmen in Miami a few weeks ago, several conditions must be met in order not to break the law. Entrepreneurs residing in Cuba, for example, cannot create companies in the U.S. to sell their products or buy goods directly from U.S. companies. Similarly, Cuban-Americans cannot establish businesses on the Island unless they achieve permanent residence in the country through repatriation.

It is not clear in which category Cuspinera Medina, which maintains a low profile on social networks, belongs. About Diplomarket, Mayca is blunt: “It is not private.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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