14ymedio, Madrid, November 17, 2023 — Food, footwear, appliances, hygiene products and other household items: an entire catalog of products in a Havana shopping center that requires payment in hard currency. Unlike what happened a few days ago with the announcement of the upcoming arrival of RusMarket in the Cuban capital, it has become clear that purchases will be made only in freely convertible currency (MLC) at Variedades Galiano Casalinda, which will open its doors to the public at the beginning of 2024.
The premises, which will have two floors according to the project, will be located in the heart of the capital, in the building that housed the very popular Ten Cents store, of the American Woolworth chain before the Revolution. This is an international economic association contract between Tiendas Caribe, a part of the Cuban military consortium Gaesa, and the Italian company Italsav, present on the Island since the 90s. The document was signed this Thursday under the watchful eye of gigantic photographs of Fidel and Raul Castro.
“We are sealing an agreement after more than a year of negotiations with the certainty that it will be a novel project”
Berto Savina Tito, president of Italsav , whose relationship with Castroism has been known for decades, has thanked his Cuban partners for the good “results in the country.” “We are sealing an agreement after more than a year of negotiations with the certainty that it will be a novel project,” he told Cubadebate.
On the Cuban side, Ana María Ortega, general director of Tiendas Caribe, has also expressed her satisfaction with Italsav over the years. “Since our beginnings we have had this supplier and we have a direct relationship with it. Our ties have always been respectful. Our chain emerged in a complex period, and now we are fighting another battle in the economy,” she declared.
Savina arrived in Cuba in the 90s to found the Todo por 1 stores, which sold their products for one CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso, equivalent to one dollar). The business later evolved to give way to the Burbujas and Agua y Bón establishments, with more than 30 stores in Cuba.
In March, when the idea of the new store began to circulate, Cubanet published an extensive report on the Italian businessman in which a source from the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment stated that the landing of the Savina stores bothered some of the Gaesa military emporium, called to manage them.
“Some refused, saying that it was something very capitalist. But in the midst of the shortages they couldn’t refuse, especially when they realized that Berto (Savina) could be useful in other things. That’s why the little company grew. Italsav would have been nothing if the Cuban government would have rejected it. You can say that it is a Cuban company that operates in Italy, not an Italian company that operates in Cuba, that is the truth,” he stated.
In the same report, a source close to the Castros stated that the Italian businessman arrived in the country with some compatriots who were friends of one of Fidel Castro’s sons, Tony. Although he maintains he did not know Tony Castro personally, those ties helped him settle in Cuba.
With an eye toward earning foreign currency, Variedades Galiano Casalinda will begin, before the establishment’s doors open, with an online store “for purchases generated from abroad.”
The first reactions from readers of the official press have shown more division than usual for this type of establishment. Although many have regretted that the availability of merchandize continues to expand for those who have foreign currency, while those who only have national currency remain the same, many still trust that the existence of this type of business is good for attracting a currency that will end up having an impact on the population.
In the midst of the dispute, a reader pointed out one of the great problems of the regime, recognized by itself and others. “What a great job. Six months to approve the opening of a business. What bureaucracy. That’s not how a country develops,” he snapped.
What a great job. Six months to approve the opening of a business. What bureaucracy. “This is not how a country develops,” said a commenter. In any case, the opening of stores with foreign capital and in MLC is part of the new policy of the Cuban Government to raise foreign currency by any means necessary and represents a break with the previous prohibition that prevented foreign investment in wholesale and retail trade.
In addition to Italsav and RusMarket, the Government authorized, in December 2022, the creation of the joint company Gran Ferretero SA, born from an agreement between the Sociedad Mercantil Albus SA, owned by the Cuban State, and the Spanish company Gurea Industrial & Automotive Equipment. SL, to market hardware items and construction materials.
This company has a large premises on Fábrica Street, in Old Havana, but the opening of the business, originally scheduled for the first quarter of 2023, has been delayed without any explanation, which has given rise to suspicions about the viability or even the existence of the Spanish company.
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