Cubans head to Haiti for shop­ping sprees

UK Barbados Nation - - NEWS -

PORT-AU-PRINCE – Most peo­ple don’t think of Haiti as a shop­ping des­ti­na­tion.

Un­less they’re Cuban.

Ev­ery af­ter­noon, hun­dreds of Cubans swarm a rut­ted cross­roads in the cap­i­tal of the hemi­sphere’s poor­est na­tion, hunt­ing clothes, light bulbs, per­fume and other goods that are in short sup­ply back home.

Haitian ven­dors blast

Cuban reg­gae­ton mu­sic to draw in shop­pers. In a yearold café painted with Cuban flags, Ha­vana-born An­gelina

Luis Dominguez and her niece Ye­leny Terry Luis serve black beans, rice and roast pork to com­pa­tri­ots on lunch breaks.

“There are thou­sands, thou­sands of Cubans,” Luis Dom­in­quez said. “There used to be four or five; now they’ve taken root. It feels like all of Cuba is here.”

The “Cuban mar­ket” in Port-au-prince is part of a global trade, es­ti­mated to top $2 bil­lion, fed by the con­flu­ence of Cubans’ in­creased free­dom to travel with the com­mu­nist state’s con­tin­ued dom­i­na­tion of the econ­omy back home.

Cloth­ing, house­wares, hard­ware, per­sonal-care prod­ucts and other goods at state-run stores in Cuba cost two or three times what they do else­where. And that’s when they are on sale at all in an econ­omy ham­pered by in­ces­sant short­age. What’s more, Cuba’s state mo­nop­oly on im­ports and ex­ports ex­cludes the small but vi­brant pri­vate sec­tor, which em­ploys more than a half mil­lion peo­ple who of­ten earn three or four times a state worker’s salary.

Since Cuba did away with a hated exit per­mit five years ago, Cubans are pack­ing flights to des­ti­na­tions with easy en­try re­quire­ments. In Port-au-prince, Panama City, Can­cun, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, even Moscow, Cubans are pack­ing suit­cases with goods for per­sonal use and re­sale back home.

More spend­ing

In Panama, the Colon

Free Trade Zone has a “Lit­tle Ha­vana” where Cubans spent $308 mil­lion last year, and are on track to spend per­haps eight per cent more in 2018, said Luis Car­los Saenz, the zone’s gen­eral as­sis­tant man­ager.

“We now have an im­por­tant Cuban clien­tele who come to make pur­chases and are mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to busi­ness in the zone,” Saenz said.

Panama is so ea­ger for Cuban busi­ness that its em­bassy in Ha­vana has started giv­ing Cubans with pri­vate busi­ness li­cences on-the-spot “tourist cards” that elim­i­nate the need for a lengthy visa ap­pli­ca­tion process.

“More Cubans are com­ing now be­cause of the tourist cards,” said Jose Her­nan­dez, who was shop­ping in the free zone with a group of rel­a­tives. “Tak­ing back an air con­di­tioner, an elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cle is a big deal for us. In Cuba, that’s gold.”

That sort of busi­ness tourism has di­ver­si­fied a trade long cen­tred on South Florida, where Cubans with fam­ily ties in the US re­lied on rel­a­tives to shut­tle in per­sonal or busi­ness goods. Driv­ing the trade away from Mi­ami has been the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to pull most staff from its Ha­vana em­bassy last year, end­ing visa pro­cess­ing there and forc­ing Cubans to travel to third coun­tries to ap­ply for per­mis­sion to visit the US.

The Mi­ami-based Ha­vana Con­sult­ing Group es­ti­mated in an Au­gust study that Cubans spent more than $2 bil­lion in 2017 on bring­ing goods back to the is­land.

That spend­ing may equal any­where from two per cent to five per cent of Cuba’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, depend­ing on which of the wildly vary­ing es­ti­mates of GDP is used in the ab­sence of re­li­able eco­nomic statis­tics on the is­land’s econ­omy.

Cuba main­tains tight re­stric­tions on the quan­ti­ties that in­di­vid­u­als can im­port, and work­ing as a “mule” – bring­ing goods back for oth­ers – is tech­ni­cally pro­hib­ited, ac­cord­ing to some of­fi­cial state­ments, but it is rarely pros­e­cuted. (AP)

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