South Florida Sun-Sentinel
May 11, 2004

Cuba halts sales of most goods in U.S. dollars

By Rafael Lorente
and Vanessa Bauza Staff Writers

HAVANA · For the first time since dollars were legalized more than a decade ago, the Cuban government will stop sales of most goods in U.S. currency in response to recently adopted measures by the Bush administration to hasten a transition to democracy on the island.

The announcement stating that sales in dollar stores, with the exception of food, personal hygiene and cleaning products, "will be suspended until further notice" was made on the government-controlled newscast Monday night, sending many Cubans into a panic.

A government statement read during the newscast said the White House's new measures "aimed directly at strangling our development" were to blame for the drastic step, which will freeze sales of appliances, clothing, shoes and other necessities that are largely only available in dollars. Cubans have lived with a dual economy since dollars were legalized on the island in 1993.

Many depend on dollar stores to supply goods that have not been offered in state shops since the Soviet Union crumbled in the early 1990s.

The statement warned, "days of work and sacrifice lie ahead" and exhorted all Cubans to "elevate their revolutionary consciousness."

Dollar prices on some goods and on fuel will be raised. However, peso prices for agricultural products and staples like rice, sugar, coffee and other foods bought at government subsidized bodegas will remain the same, according to the statement.

The government statement seemed to suggest that the stores may reopen with higher prices.

On Monday night, some Cubans predicted that the black market, which functions efficiently in Cuba selling almost all goods from VCRs to electric stoves, would boom.

In Washington on Monday morning, Dagoberto Rodriguez, the lead Cuban diplomat, seemed to foreshadow his government's new measures when he told reporters that the recently announced U.S. initiatives will impose hardships on people in Cuba at a time when food and oil prices already are unusually high.

Rodriguez said the recommendations of the Commission for Assistance to A Free Cuba, announced by the White House last week, are intended to destabilize and overthrow Havana's government.

On Thursday, the commission released a 423-page report adopted by President Bush that calls for measures to get more independent news and information into the island, deny money to President Fidel Castro's government and assist dissidents.

They include restricting the money Cuban-Americans send to relatives on the island to immediate family members such as spouses, parents and children; adding Communist Party members to the list of government officials who cannot legally receive remittances; and using airplanes to regularly broadcast Radio and TV Marti past Cuban jamming.

Restricting who can receive money from relatives in the United States will only cause hardship on people and families, said Rodriguez, chief of the Cuban Interests Section, which functions in place of a Cuban embassy in Washington.

"Their cruel and cowardly actions will no doubt impose sacrifices to our people, yet they will not be able to stop for a second our march towards meeting the human and social objectives we have set and no Cuban will be left behind," said Rodriguez. "Cuba will never return to the horrible and inhumane condition of being a U.S. colony."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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