Cuba’s informal market finds new space on growing internet

Cuba’s informal market finds new space on growing internet

By MEGAN JANETSKY, Associated Press

HAVANA — In the Telegram group chat, the messages roll in like waves.

“I need liquid ibuprofen and acetaminophen please,” one user wrote. “It’s urgent, it’s for my 10-month-old baby.”

Others offer medicine brought from outside Cuba, adding: “Write me in a direct message.” Emoji-spotted lists offer antibiotics, pregnancy tests, vitamins, rash creams and more.

The group message, which includes 170,000 people, is just one of many that have flourished in Cuba in recent years along with an exponential increase in internet use on the communist-ruled island.

The informal sale of everything from eggs to car parts – the country’s so-called black market – is a time-honored practice in crisis-stricken Cuba, where access to the most basic items such as milk, chicken, medicine and cleaning products has always been limited. is limited. The market is technically illegal, but the extent of illegality, in official eyes, can vary according to the type of items being sold and how they were obtained.

Before the Internet, such exchanges took place “through your contacts, your neighbors, your local community,” says Ricardo Torres, a Cuban and economics fellow at American University in Washington. “But now, through the Internet, you can reach out to an entire province.”

With shortages and economic turmoil at their worst in years, the online market has “exploded”, Torres said.

Busy WhatsApp groups discuss the informal exchange rate, which provides more pesos per dollar or euro than the official bank rate.

Meanwhile, Cuba’s versions of Craigslist — sites like Revolico, the island’s first digital buy-and-sell tool — advertise everything from electric bicycles brought in from other countries to “capitalist apartments” in Havana’s wealthy districts.

Many products are sold in pesos, but more expensive items are often listed in dollars, with payments handled in cash or through bank transfers outside the country.

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