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The big news item for Americans in Cuba this week is the elimination of the 10% surcharge that the Cuban government charged anyone exchanging American dollars for Cuban CUCs. The simple bureaucratic scam that the Cuban government used to skim a little off the top all the dollars exchanged on the island since 2003 is no more. Now the CUC, which is worthless outside of Cuba, is on par with the dollar on the island, and this may be a sign that the elimination of the CUC may be near. Not only did communist party eliminate the 10% surcharge on the dollar, it also will allow dollars as payment at many grocery and “convenience” stores throughout the island.

We are going in the fifth month of the coronavirus pandemic in Havana, Cuba, and so far, my predictions of large numbers of cases have not come true. After high daily counts in the beginning of the crisis, by mid-May there were usually less than a dozen new daily cases, and by June just a handful of new daily cases. I have a few theories about how this has occurred, and the most believable is that Cuba’s lack of development has aided in controlling the spread of the virus. Unlike many areas of the U.S. that resort to air conditioning in the summer, in Cuba there are hardly any stores or businesses that have air conditioning. City buses and most public cars don’t usually have air conditioning, so all these places that are enclosed in the U.S. are open in Cuba. That’s my COVID-19 two cents, for what it’s worth.

The big problem throughout the island is food, and specifically variety of food. The price of all staples has increased on the black market, the only place where they are readily available. A pound of rice that used to sell for forty cents a pound pre-pandemic is now selling for over a dollar in some areas and can be hard to obtain. While certain food items can be found, always with some difficulty, a great deal of items have vanished from the supply chain, so that the only source of protein for most Cubans is either pork or chicken. Beans have disappeared in all provinces, and locally produced beans won’t be available until the end of the year.

In June, the Cuban government partially opened tourism by allowing tourists to enter the island on flights to specific airports that serviced a limited number of cays on the northern coast. Tourists arriving were being screened for the coronavirus, and then transported on buses to isolated resorts. Local employees were several twenty-four hours shifts and then going home for several days, and while being monitored for symptoms. So far it appears to be working. Daily flights from the U.S. are scheduled to begin in mid-August.

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