MIAMI (CBSMiami) — With Cuba’s economy forecast to drop nearly ten percent due to a decline in tourism and now the coronavirus pandemic, the communist islands leaders have expanded their search for American dollars by opening government run stores filled with products in high-demand.
Leaders are looking to put a band aid on its hemorrhaging economy.
“It is almost like the Cuban version of Groundhog Day. We have seen it before, we are seeing it now, and we will see it again,” said FIU professor and Latin America Business Expert Dr. Jerry Haar.
In 2004, Cuba banned the dollar. Then in 2019, it allowed government owned stores to accept payment in dollars for household appliances in a government search for hard currency.
That search is ramped up again now that tourism has slowed due to a crackdown from the Trump administration, fading support from Venezuela and lack of European and Canadian tourists due to the coronavirus.
“It is all about having the dollars and if you don’t have the dollars you will not be able to by those scarce goods that are found in dollar stores run by the Cuban government,” explained Dr. Haar.
All of those dollars that flow into Cuba from relatives in the U.S. flows directly to the government who plays the role of the middleman/wholesaler.
The government has opened more stores to capture more dollars, selling food and cleaning products that are in high demand.
“You are essentially empowering the Cuban government, the military, and intelligence service by getting more money to them because they are the middleman,” said Dr. Haar.
Raul Castro proposed similar reforms ten years ago, but hardliners buried them and Cubans, with no pipe line to remittances provided by relatives in the U.S., were resentful.
“This is a dysfunctional. An economy that simply does not work.”
Cubans who have to deposit the dollars in a government controlled bank are then issued a credit card to go shopping in the dollar stores.