Red Carpet for Dollars, Service Entrance for Pesos

When the Plaza de Carlos III in Havana opened on Monday, there was a special entrance for those paying with hard currency. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguea, Havana, 14 December 2020 — When the Plaza de Carlos III shopping mall in downtown Havana opened on Monday, there was a special entrance for customers with foreign currency. They were allowed to enter a home appliance store through the front door. Those who wanted to buy products with Cuban pesos were relegated to the the building’s side door and had to wait in a long line that extended for several blocks.

This weekend the mall opened all its stores after months of being closed to customers with Cuban pesos (CUP) and only a few weeks after at least ten of the stores began operating as so-called MLC stores, which only accept foreign currency. After the reopening, the line of customers extended along several streets perpendicular to the wide avenue for which the shopping mall, referred to ironically as “the palace of consumption,” is named.

They have chicken, gizzards, pasta, soap, deodorant, perfumes, cooking oil, almost everything I was looking for. But it won’t last long so I figured I had better get in line,” said a resident of Central Havana, who was one of the first in line to pay with Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and surprised that so many CUP stores did not have the same items.

Customers who want to pay with Cuban pesos (CUP) are relegated to a side entrance and a long line that extends for several blocks. (14ymedio)

The shortage of basic products has forced city residents to fan out over multiple areas in search of basic products. Many place their hopes in big retail centers such as Plaza de Carlos III and Cuatro Caminos, which reopened their doors on Saturday in the midst of a strong police presence meant to discourage large gatherings and fist fights.

“They just told me that as soon as they run out of things for sale in CUC, they won’t be selling those items in that currency. You’ll have to pay for it with foreign currency. Those perfumes, for example, were what they already had in stock when the store reopened this weekend,” said one disillusioned cutomer.

For decades Plaza de Carlos III has been the commerical heart of Central Havana, especially in the neighborhoods of Pueblo Nuevo, Cayo Hueso and Los Sitios. Along with the state-owned stores in these areas, there is an extensive network of individual vendors and privately owned businesses who rely on the large volume of customers passing through the area every day.


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