Cuba’s Currencies: CUP and CUC vs. USD

HAVANA, July 27th (HT) If there was something people couldn’t talk about when I was a little girl, it was the dollar. Only foreigners could buy things in this currency. If anyone was caught with green bills in their pocket, they would be sent to jail.

Soon after, in 1993, the dollar was decriminalized, and finally, Cubans with family members living abroad could receive financial aid.

Then, the CUC (Convertible Cuban Peso) came along, which is nothing but another official currency in our country. That was when the three currencies – CUP, CUC and USD – began to circulate. The State opened new stores, where you could only purchase items in CUC and USD.

Soon after, the CUC gradually began to replace the US dollar, and the latter finally stopped circulating.

Up until very recently, just a couple of years, you could only buy things in these markets or stores in CUC, but, today, you can pay with both of the national currencies. This means to say that if you are going to buy a bottle of cooking oil, which costs 1.95 CUC, then you can pay for it in this currency or it’s equivalent in CUP, which in the case of cooking oil would be 50 CUP.

Everything was going relatively well… well, at least most of the population was able to buy goods in one of these two currencies, but then the pandemic came with its disastrous aftershocks.

It just so happens that the Cuban Government has decided to incorporate the dollar into the economy again, as a “strategy” to recover economically; but, where does the US dollar come from? Who has access to it?

Well, a few months ago, some bank cards were allowed in Cuba which family members living abroad (for those that have one) can transfer foreign currency into them, and then Cubans on the island could and can buy electrical appliances from certain stores.

That said, during this post-COVID phase when we clearly need to recover “as a country”, the Government has opened up 72 stores (out of the 4,000 that exist on the island) where payment can only be made in MLC (Freely Convertible Currency, so as not to say dollars).

Many people have expressed their disagreement and there have been protests because, well first of all: No Cuban worker is paid in dollars, and secondly: Not every Cuban has family living abroad who can help them buy basic essentials.

If all stores were well-stocked, I’m sure there wouldn’t be that many complaints and people disagreeing, but this isn’t the case because while stores in CUC and CUP are empty, these new stores are full. Conclusions? Well, that the scales aren’t exactly tipped in the favour of those most in need.