Upscale grocery stores that were scheduled to close two days last week for inventory remained shuttered Monday — sparking rumors of food shortages because of the country’s dire economic situation.
More than a dozen stores in Cuba’s capital that had been run by the now-defunct firm Cubalse closed Thursday to tally merchandise before they were transferred to the new managing company, TRD Caribe. The change is part of a government effort to streamline bureaucracy.
When they didn’t reopen Saturday as scheduled, customers started to get concerned. Cuba has seen its revenue from nickel and other exports plummet, leaving it short on cash to pay bills overseas.
“We have been forced to re-negotiate debts, payments and other commitments with foreign companies,” President Raul Castro said in a speech Saturday night.
The shuttered stores cater to foreigners and accept only convertible pesos, a currency worth 24 times the regular peso, which most Cubans are paid in. However, some islanders get convertible pesos through remittances from relatives in the United States, or from jobs in tourism or with foreign firms, and frequent the upscale stores seeking toilet paper, ground beef, cooking oil and other products unavailable in local groceries.
Customers knocked on the door of one closed store Monday to demand an explanation.
“It’s a lack of respect for the consumer,” said Alina Marquez, a 66-year-old retiree who came because, “I ran out of laundry detergent and was also looking for a little chicken to eat.”
TRD Caribe commercial director Maria Eloisa Cabrera said Monday that the inventory took longer than expected, and added that she doesn’t yet know when the stores will reopen.
“We are taking organizational steps, and there were incompatibility issues with our computer systems,” Cabrera said.
She said when stores open again, “they are going to keep selling everything Cubalse had. Nothing is going to change.”
But the closings have raised fears of less merchandise and higher prices.
In recent weeks, grocery vendors complained they had not received shipments of everything from laundry detergent to dog food since the government dissolved Cubalse in June and canceled its contracts with international exporters.
Some stores that weren’t controlled by Cubalse, such as Palco Supermarket on the capital’s outskirts, are open but have been mobbed by crowds of customers who snapped up much of the available inventory.