U.S. dollar makes a comeback in Cuba to fight capital flight


By Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta

HAVANA, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Cuba said on Tuesday it plans to allow some stores to sell domestic appliances and other goods in U.S. dollars, as the country struggles to get to grips with a black market of so-called mules who purchase goods abroad to sell door-to-door.

Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa said 77 stores across the country would begin selling appliances and other goods for dollars at the end of the month.

"We hope to increase the offer of domestic appliances most in demand: electric motorcycles, flatscreen TVs, air conditioners and spare parts for cars," Valdes Mesa said during a nationally televised round table with various ministers.

Cuba's inefficient state-run economy is facing a crisis due to the implosion of ally Venezuela’s economy and the tightening of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo under President Donald Trump.

The government granted pay raises to many state employees and pensioners in July to stimulate demand. It also slapped price controls on many products and said it would work to increase local production to meet increased demand.

There are currently two currencies, the peso and the convertible peso, which is valued at 24 pesos, circulating in Cuba. Possession of the dollar and other tradable currencies is legal, but they have previously not been deemed legal tender for purchases.

Cubans who want to buy from the specialist stores will need to use a dollar-denominated bank card from an account opened with tradable currencies, such as the dollar or euro. People may obtain those tradable currencies through offshore remittances or by other means such as exchanging local pesos on the street, the government said.

The government claims the convertible peso is equal to the dollar, but imported appliances and other goods, when available, have huge markups as they are purchased in tradable currencies while the peso and convertible peso have no value abroad.

Cubans travel abroad to places such as Haiti, Mexico, Panama and Russia, where they collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase goods that they then resell in the Caribbean nation.

Economy and Planning Minister Alejandro Gil said Cubans could continue to travel and purchase abroad, but now they would face competition from the state, which controls most economic activity.

Gil said profits would go in part to revitalizing local production.

"It is an option that of course we are providing our population," he said. "A competitive offer in terms of quality and price."

(Reporting by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta; editing by Jane Wardell)

((marc.frank@thomsonreuters.com; +537-833-3145; Reuters Messaging: marc.frank.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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