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New "High-End" Grocery Stores Poised to Exacerbate the Social Gap in Cuba

The Government says that they will make it possible to maintain an "economic line of merchandise" in CUC.

La Habana
Tienda Caribe. 
Tienda Caribe.  TRD/FACEBOOK

On Thursday at the "Round Table" the Government announced that starting on Monday, July 20 it will open a network of stores controlled by the Cuban military for the sale of food, hygiene products, and other items, in dollars.

Of the 72 establishments that initially will operate in accord with this "modality", which the authorities present as an "ordering" of internal trade, 57 will sell food and cleaning products, and 15, hardware items. A total of 14 will be located in Havana, and there will be at least two in each province, the official website Cubadebate published.

According to Ana María Ortega Tamayo, general director of Tiendas Caribe, "it is not that they are stopping sales in CUC or CUP." She insisted that "the sale of basic products to the population will continue, in addition to cleaning, non-alcoholic beverages, and others that will be maintained in CUC."

"At MLC we will offer a wide assortment. We stress that we are not going to close the business, but rather deal with a situation imposed on us, transforming this reality. These are times in which we find ourselves in a specific situation that the country has," she explained.

In the words of Héctor Oroza Busutil, president of the CIMEX corporation, belonging to the GAESA military conglomerate, it is about "facilitating access to these products for people who have freely convertible currency."

"For the supplying of merchandise, going forward, contracts with suppliers have been signed; that is, there is a pre-established relationship. As in the home appliances network, purchases will be made with magnetic cards," Oroza said.

The cost of products at the new stores may undergo "variations, depending on the trends in international prices."
"It will not be the same as the network in CUC, which will be protected," said the official.

The measure seems to be a tacit recognition of the existence of a class of people on the island capable of buying "high-end" products. It also establishes new differences in Cuban society, now between those who can receive dollars, and buy in the new stores, and those who must make do with the CUC. Far below them are those who only have the lowly Cuban peso.
Previously, the Economy Minister acknowledged that this measure has a "high cost", but its main objective, he argued, "is to maintain the supply at stores in CUP and CUC."

"In the current scenario, we cannot take resources from the country to import high-end food and sell it in CUC. Therefore, we use them to acquire goods from the economic line and offer them in the economic line. Our goal is for there to be no shortages, but that is not something that changes overnight."

It is not clear what the quality of these "economic line" products will be like. Cubans frequently criticize the supply of stores in CUC, whose prices, although the government defines them as "economical", are also out of reach for a large part of the population.

On Thursday the Government announced a plan to reactivate the economy, mired in a serious post-pandemic crisis, consisting of 209 measures that, in an initial stage, focus on food production.

In remarks to the Council of Ministers during the day, Miguel Díaz-Canel stated that the measures were approved at the last Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) but later postponed. Official media sources added that had the approval of General Raúl Castro.

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