Internet Increasingly Drives Cuba’s Informal Economy

Dr. Jorge I. Dominguez is a US academic who taught international relations as a Harvard University professor for many years. Born in Havana and the author of several books on the subject of Cuba, Dr. Jorge I. Dominguez has a particular expertise in the area of market reforms in what is still a state-run economy.

A November 2022 Associated Press article brought attention to the growing role of the Internet in bolstering Cuba’s informal economy, which is often used to procure scarce and expensive items. An example is a Telegram group chat that reaches 170,000 people and enables the sale of everything from medicine to cleaning products.

For many years the Internet remained challenging to access in Cuba, and the black market existed largely among neighbors locally. However, in recent years the use of messaging and e-commerce sites has exploded. Revolico and other sites that mimic Craigslist offer items that range from sought-after “capitalist” apartments in Havana to electric bicycles.

In addition, high traffic WhatsApp groups allow discussions on topics such as the current informal exchange rate, which help consumers make educated financial decisions. This has to do with a situation in which many lower priced items sell in pesos, while higher ticket items are priced in dollars and require cash or international bank transfers. One unresolved issue involves “revendedores,” or people who purchase items abroad and resell them in Cuba for a profit. In October, President Miguel Diaz-Canel branded such entrepreneurs as criminals who “break the concepts of socialism,” and whether they will be allowed to flourish in the long term remains to be seen.

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