Is Our National Money Still Worth Anything?

Many Cubans felt upset after standing in line and then seeing that the products they wanted in the hard-currency (divisa) stores were not abundantly available. (Facebook)

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14ymedio, Havana, July 21, 2020 – “Since I’ve had the use of reason they’ve inculcated us with the idea that we’re all equal, and now I understand that it’s not true,” writes Avelino, one reader among many of Cubadebate. Since Monday they’ve made their frustration clear about the beginning of the sale of food and hygiene products in hard currency, divisas. The official newspaper has received, up to now, around 70 comments that criticize the measure in a tone that’s closer to disappointment than indignation.

“How do I explain to my kids that their papá, a professional who studied and remained in Cuba, can’t buy the things they want, and the child of someone who doesn’t work and sells dollars or has a business can? Do you think the kids today want to be PhDs? Wouldn’t it be better to leave the country or sell dollars? Marx was clear: man needs to cover his basic needs in order to do the rest later. This is the despair that today weighs on the hearts of many Cubans.” Another reader, a PhD professor in science, writes: “People need real reforms that benefit their economic status.” He says he’s written several times before but wasn’t published.

Cubadebate published on Monday night a Quick Guide to the MLC (money freely convertible, e.g. hard currency) shops in Cuba, which explains the conditions for having access to buying in these establishments, how to set up bank accounts and obtain funds, and the list of basic, prioritized products that will continue being sold in the CUC and CUP (Cuban convertible and Cuban peso) stores. This list approximates quite well the one advanced by 14ymedio on Friday, although it adds some home appliances and construction materials and eliminates some of the food products listed by this newspaper.

The list is one of the points that has generated the most annoyance, as several comments reflect: “I still can’t understand which food products are considered high or medium range. Whatever product is being sold today in U.S. dollars is what people need. In fact, they’re what we already consume. Is mustard or Cuban ketchup really a luxury item?”

“I saw coffee today in the MLC shops. Do they also have it, as they say on the list, in the CUC shops?” asks someone else. “Because it’s been gone for a while.”

It hasn’t gone over readers’ heads that they couldn’t find a lot of the products seen in the widespread images in the new stores, and that they spent long hours in line trying to bring them home.

“Today in these shops they’re offering the same products that used to be sold in the CUC stores. They disappeared for months at the beginning of the pandemic, but now they’ve resurfaced in the MLC shops and are only a dream in the CUC stores,” reproached a woman.

Others prefer to cast a vote of confidence, but they don’t hide their discouragement. “It’s said there will be different products and that the ones we saw today are the same products that were in the CUC stores three or four months ago. We’re hoping this isn’t a way to make things more difficult for us. I have faith in our Government.”

But already some have determined that the new sales measure will have undesired consequences. “I just saw on [the on-line ad site] Revolico on Facebook that a 5 kg package of detergent that’s worth less than $6 is already being sold at 40 CUC [Roughly $40 US]. This only makes everything worse and encourages the businessmen and coleros (people paid to stand in line for someone),” responded a reader, to someone who asked what people who don’t have hard currency will do.

This question was the one that caused the most anxiety. It’s calculated that in 2019, about $3,716,000 in remittances was received by Cubans, and, although there are many beneficiaries (according to Western Union data some 62% of their offices), a large number of people are at the mercy of their salaries. The pandemic, with the closing of borders and the suspension of tourism, has left many others without hard currency.

“How are those who only have access to CUPs going to manage? What should we do to meet our budgets?” asks another bothered reader. “Why didn’t they do this 30 years ago so we could have avoided the dollar flight? Why are we so late in taking measures to stimulate the economy? They should give us answers to the problems now, because we’re losing capital. This has been the saddest moment to implement these measures. Many people are upset by their lack of access to hard currency and the shortages,” reasons a commentator.

“The Cuban who lives from his salary. How can he go to these shops?” continues another. “The shops in CUCs are mainly not supplied and the lines go on for kilometers. Please, we can’t pretend this isn’t happening. We’re realists. Go ahead and publish this if you want, but many people agree and we have the right to express our displeasure.”

But some readers, a few, have supported the Government’s decision. “The same shops, the same products, but those who have U.S. dollars will be repaid, indirectly incentivized to collect hard currency. Without creating social differences, without handing over monetary sovereignty to our historic enemy, without adding more money to the already complicated monetary unification,” defends a woman. Others try to calm the most annoyed, asking them for patience, because they’re convinced, as the authorities have assured, that the liquidity will permit them to improve the offers in Cuban pesos later.

“If we want to shop in the CUC stores, they have to be supplied. We shouldn’t be afraid or anxious about whether they’re filled with every type of product. And what about the CUP stores?” a reader asks Cuban president Díaz-Canel. “Is our national money still worth anything?” asks another.

Among all the comments, a reflection. “I don’t understand why the euro is elevated above the CUC and now dollars are back, when there’s an official international exchange rate between these two hard currencies. The citizen ends up receiving less than he had before.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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