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Cuba freezes most sales in dollars

The Cuban government said Monday it was suspending most sales in dollars in response to new U.S. moves aimed at hastening the end of the country’s communist regime.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Cuban officials announced Monday they were freezing most sales in dollars in response to new U.S. proposals aimed at ending the nation’s communist regime.

The measure could have dramatic effects on life in Cuba, where many people depend upon goods bought at dollar stores to supplement the scant, if subsidized, items available at stores that sell in the local peso.

Sales of goods at dollar stores “are suspended until further notice,” announcers on state television announced, reading an “official notice.” Crucially, food and personal hygiene products were exempted.

The announcement was described as a reaction to “brutal and cruel” measures proposed last week by a U.S. presidential commission as ways to hasten the fall of Cuba’s communist system.

But it appeared to be as much a political as an economic retrenchment.

Based on the commission’s report, President Bush restricted family visits by Cuban-Americans to once every three years instead of the current one per year and lowered the authorized per diem amount for a family visit to $50, compared with $164 now.

Bush retained the $1,200-a-year limit on dollar transfers that Cuban-American families can send to the island, but limited those who could receive the transfers to immediate family members — excluding even uncles and cousins.

Recipients could not include “certain Cuban officials and Communist Party members.”

Cuban officials have portrayed the measures as a possible prelude to stronger U.S. attacks, possibly even an invasion.

The government statement said the U.S. proposals “are directly aimed at strangling our development and reducing to a minimum the resources in hard currency that are essential for the necessities of food, medical and educational services and other essentials.”

Details of how the measure would be applied were not immediately clear, but it appeared to be return toward the centralized, subsidized economies of the 1970s and 1980s.

The language, too, seemed drastic, promising to perfect the tactics of “the war of the entire people” — a doctrine which can mean universal military or social struggle — and warning that “days of work and sacrifice await.”

Most analysts believe that Cuba has tended to earn money at hard-currency-only stores, which sell goods at relatively high prices, soaking up dollars brought into the economy via family remittances and from tourism.

Yet the stores are associated with the sort of social inequalities that have worried Cuban leaders in a country where some doctors, paid in pesos, might earn only $25 a month.

The announcement promised the government would continue or improve other services, such as private and state farmers markets and the ability to trade in foreign currency. It also vowed to maintain the subsidized prices of state goods, and to continue socialist health, education and cultural services.