Tens of Thousands of Cubans on Waiting List to Buy Dollars

The Cadeca branch at 23rd and J streets will allow only fifteen people a day to buy currency. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 August 2023 — Cuba’s official currency exchange, Cadeca, indicated on Sunday that, after being out of commission for three days, the Ticket app will again be taking online reservations for people wanting to buy hard currency at its authorized branches. The waiting list at just one Havana location already exceeds 12,000 people. In other provinces the figure can exceed 23,000.

The platform, which handles a large number of services in Cuba (such as propane gas sales, notaries and civil registration), began having problems on Friday when customers tried to schedule a time to buy foreign currency but were unable to access the waiting list. The sale of foreign currency over those three days, however, continued uninterrupted.

This morning, employees allowed only fifteen people inside the Cadeca at 23rd and J streets in Havana’s Vedado district. From the outside, everything seemed to be in order. However, one of those present reported, “The problem is actually with Ticket.”

“There is a serious problem with the system, and it is that it doesn’t notify you when it’s almost your turn or if you’re in the next group to buy”

According to Reinaldo, more than 10,000 people are on a waiting list at each of the company’s five offices in Havana authorized to sell hard currency. “I signed up in April and I remember that I had to choose a day that I could theoretically go to Cadeca. I chose a date in mid-May, but it was just symbolic. It’s only now, in August, that my number finally got to the top of the list,” he says.

The long wait is not his only concern, however. For the last two weeks, Reinaldo has gone to the branch at 23rd and J streets, fearing he will miss his turn and have to wait several more months to get the $100 he is legally allowed to buy. “There is a serious problem with their system,” he says. “It doesn’t notify you when it’s almost your turn or if you’re in the next group of customers. You have to go to the Cadeca office and wait for them to announce the list for that day, which is never more than twenty people. If you aren’t on it, you have to come back the next day.”

On the sidewalk in front of the currency exchange office, another young man awaits his turn. He believes the branch has more currency than it is selling: “Even if they had 5,000 dollars or euros, they would only sell to fifteen or twenty people a day.

Cadeca’s website is filled with comments by customers with similar concerns about the company’s management. “This platform, which used to seem like a good solution for workers, barely moves. I signed up on May 12 and there are still 1,026 people ahead of me,” complains a woman who says she is on the waiting list at the Playa branch on 21st and 42nd streets. “If someone needs dollars, they have to turn to the black market because going this route will take five or six months.”

On Monday, the peso-to-dollar exchange rate, which as high as 250 to one last week, fell to 235

In Sancti Spíritus the situation is not much different from that of Havana. 14ymedio was able to confirm that there are more than 23,500 people on this city’s waiting list. A local woman reported that, since she added her name to the list last May, her place in line has barely budged. “Right now there are about 3,700 people ahead of me. At this rate I won’t be able to buy the euros I need until the end of the year. That’s why people end up going to the black market. Even if it’s much more expensive, at least you get things resolved quickly,” she confesses.

On Monday, the peso-to-dollar exchange rate, which as high as 250 to one last week, fell to 235. Meanwhile, the euro, the second most sought-after currency on the island, hovered at 240. This modest drop gave Cubans a modicum of relief, though it is still double the official rate of 120 pesos to the dollar.

The situation has contributed to the worsening financial insecurity of the public, which has been  subjected in recent years to constantly shifting economic policies, the devaluation of the currency, the loss of purchasing power and the inability of banks to protect their assets. The government still obsesses over the bancarización* — banking reform — of the country, even though it does not have the infrastructure necessary to support the kind of electronic payment system that the program requires, while ignoring the needs of its citizens, who must resort to the informal market to survive.

Recently, 14ymedio reported on the closure of a Cadeca currency exchange on Obispo Street in Old Havana whose premises are now rented out to a privately owned business. The store, whose windows used to display currency exchange rates, now sells children’s toys. The cause, once again, is the state’s lack of liquidity and the unprecedented collapse of the economy.

*Translator’s note: “Bancarización” is term used in Cuba and other Latin American countries that refers to government efforts to reduce the role of cash through a greater reliance on banks’ digital payment options. The term does not seem to have a counterpart in English so the Spanish term is used throughout this translation.


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