The Economist pp26 The Americas | Cuba | “Neither mulas nor moolah” “The pandemic cuts a lifeline for the socialist state”.
The U.S.A. started embargoes against Cuba going back to 1958 and except for “food and humanitarian supplies” since February 7, 1962. The wider embargo came after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, April 17-29 1961, but before the complete U.S. Naval Blockade during Cuban Missile Crisis of October 16-28, 1962. The details of the embargoes have varied from time-to-time since then. (Source Wikipedia)
Despite these restrictions “the flow of goods, money and people…has never stopped”. Until COVID-19 about 50,000 Cuban Citizens, dubbed mulas or mules (English), have traveled from the U.S., Panama and other origins including Russia bringing “back goods that are otherwise scarce…or overpriced”. Pre-Covid, items ranged from cosmetics to appliances totaling $8bn, including $1.8bn in cash. Since COVID-19, to get by Cubans “with internet access use Telegram, a messaging app, to form chat groups that help locate products…” around the island. When in stores volunteers post what’s available and the queue for items.
Cuba expects an 8% shortfall in GDP. Although COVID-19 has been reportedly controlled the mule trade stopped with the borders being closed. Consequently, prices have escalated and some items like toothpaste are no longer available. Unfortunately, agricultural production of sugar and lemon juice have not increased to offset shortages. Cubans are now hinging hopes on a return of International Travel starting in August. When that happens, Mulas will be restricted to only one suitcase per inbound flight and “foreign tourists will not be allowed to stray beyond five cays reserved for them”. According to Cuba Unbound, “Cuba covers 44,827 square miles…including 4,000 islands and cays, which form four primary archipelagos…surround[ing] the main island: Jardine de la Reina, the Canarreosu, the Sabana-Camaguey and the Colorados”.