Faced With the Upsurge in Violence in Haiti, Cuban ‘Mules’ Are Looking for Alternative Markets

The mules buy many things, from footwear and clothing to cell phones and appliances.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 March 2024 —  The Cuban mules’ fear of being trapped in the crossfire of the Haitian gangs – as happened days ago with more than 250 visitors who were shopping in that country and of whom it is not known if they have managed to return to Cuba – has forced these merchants to look for new markets for buying merchandise. The Venezuelan island of Margarita, as well as Guyana and Nicaragua are some of the destinations that regular travelers to Haiti have in their sights.

“We will not sell tickets to Haiti until next month because of the current situation, which does not allow travel,” one of the improvised “agencies” that manage these trips from Port-au-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, tells 14ymedio through social networks. The price, they add, “is $500, including everything: round-trip tickets plus two days of accommodation in a house. During those two days they can go out and buy.”

Businesses that survive by selling everything from clothes and footwear to appliances and cell phones, however, cannot afford to be without merchandise for long, and, despite what ticket resellers say, it’s the airlines that decide when to resume flights. This is the case of Sunrise Airways, with two weekly frequencies (Monday and Thursday) between Port-au-Prince and Havana, and one (Friday) to Camagüey. One of its planes to Camagüey got caught in the crossfire during a gang shooting on March 1, and Sunrise has clarified that it will not resume flights “until further notice.”

“The last time I was there, I arrived in the middle of a stampede. They even killed a person in front of me. Since then I travel to Guyana, where with just over 1,000 dollars and what I spend on merchandise, I can do business”

The travel agencies, which seek to replenish their clientele after the loss of the Haitian destination, now propose other spots with the same comforts for Cubans. This Monday, an ad on Facebook suggested solving the “problem” with a trip to Venezuela. “I’m thinking about you and how I can help you travel to Margarita Island, in Venezuela, in the next few days when the price will not be too expensive.” And it added: “It is a tourist package with the visa, ticket and lodging included, with departures from Holguín and Havana.”

However, despite the promises, the difference between the 500 dollars that mules pay to travel to Haiti and the 1,050 and 1,200 dollars that resellers and agencies charge to reach the Venezuelan island is more than substantial.

Before the debacle of Haiti, Margarita Island was already popular among Cuban merchants. In 2022, according to data from the Venezuelan Government, about 5,000 Cubans, mostly “small businessmen,” arrived on the island as tourists, spending an average of 5,000 dollars per person.

Guyana, another popular destination among Cubans, has also been considered by the mules, who “for a long time” have been noticing a rise in violence in Haiti. Maritza, a habanera who traveled frequently to Port-au-Prince six months ago, tells this newspaper that due to the violence, which has even forced many countries to withdraw their staff, she has begun to travel to Guyana.

“The last time I was in Haiti, I arrived in the middle of a stampede,” she remembers. They even killed a person in front of me. Since then I travel to Guyana, where with just over 1,000 dollars and what I spend on merchandise, I can do business. It’s more expensive, but right now Haiti is a jungle and I don’t want to risk it.”

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not returned to the issue of the Cuban mules stranded in Haiti

“I also was very hungry and did a lot of work in the houses where I was staying, and I don’t want to do that now,” she says. “When I can’t travel, I go to the La Cuevita fair, in San Miguel del Padrón, and there I buy and then resell,” she adds.

As for the situation of the Cubans stranded in Haiti since March 1, videos were posted on social networks asking for help from the authorities of both countries to return them to the Island. They said that, having bought the merchandise days before, they barely had enough money and provisions to stay for a few more days in the hostels in Port-au-Prince.

Among them there are groups from Havana, Camagüey and Santiago, who have shared their situation and describe it as distressing due to the lack of explanations from the airline and the climate of insecurity that has led the Haitian authorities to declare a state of emergency.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry, which reported on the same day as the videos that it was taking “measures to ensure the safe return of Cubans residing and in transit in that country,” has not mentioned the issue again.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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