Ricardo Herrero

Cuban Study Group, 14 December 2020

“Cuba said late on Thursday it would start its long-awaited monetary reform in January, eliminating its dual currency and labyrinthine multiple exchange rate system in a bid to improve business conditions in the crisis-stricken economy. In a televised address to the nation, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the Cuban peso would be fixed at a single exchange rate of 24 per dollar [24 CUP : 1 USD].” (Reuters, December 10, 2020)

For more than three decades, two currencies have circulated in Cuba’s state-run economy: the peso (CUP) and the convertible peso (CUC), pegged to the dollar. These have been exchanged at various rates: 1 to 1 for state-owned businesses, 24 pesos for 1 CUC for the public and others for joint ventures, wages in island’s special development zone and transactions between farmers and hotels.” (Reuters, December 10, 2020)

“The government has said some companies will be given a year to get their books in order before ending subsidies, and it will continue to provide universal and free healthcare and education, some subsidized food and other social gratuities. Cuban economists estimate around 40% of state companies operate at a loss and though some will benefit from the monetary reform, such as those tied to the export sector, others will fail. Some Cubans complain that multiple currencies will still be in use on the island given the government has been opening stores over the past year that sell consumer goods for dollars and other internationally traded currencies, though only with a bank card. The government says this is a temporary measure needed to earn tradable currency to purchase more consumer goods amid dire scarcity as it is all but bankrupt.” (Reuters, December 10, 2020)

Government raises minimum wage to 2,100 pesos and sets pensions cap at 1,528 pesos. “Cuba published the new scale for wages, pensions and social assistance benefits, as part of the monetary ordering process announced last night and which will be in force as of next January 1, determining the economic future of the island. As of that date, the minimum wage rises to 2,100 pesos per month, by public provision since yesterday in the Gaceta Oficial Extraordinaria No. 69. The wage scale is divided into 32 complexity groups, determined by the number of hours worked and the category of who performs them…The wage scales start at 1,910 and 2,100 pesos, for those who work 40 and 44 hours a week, respectively, and rise to 9,510 pesos for those who add 44 hours a week.” (OnCuba News, December 11, 2020)




“Economists say the reform spells short-term pain for Cubans but is important in the long-term as varying exchange rates have effectively subsidized some sectors and distorted the way economy works. [They] expect triple-digit inflation, and government announcements in recent months suggest it does too. It has said the [new single exchange rate] will be accompanied by a five-fold increase in average state wages and pensions even as many state-controlled prices are increased or allowed to respond to demand. But the wage increase does not apply to around two million of the seven million-plus labor force in the private sector, informal sector or who simply do not work. (Reuters, December 10, 2020)

Carmelo Mesa Largo: “The immediate impact will be that inflation will be unleashed and the purchasing power of the population will drop in parallel.” Mesa Lago says that an exchange rate set at 24 pesos per dollar implies a 2,400% devaluation [for state-run businesses]…’it would be extremely difficult for the government to increase salaries by 2,400 percent in 2021 if the exchange rate is set at 24 pesos per dollar. The government will raise salaries, but by much less than that, like it did between 1989 and 2019, the salaries as well as the pensions will cover even less of the basic necessities,’ he added.” (Miami Herald, December 1, 2020)

“Mesa-Lago said he believes the official figures underestimate the real level of inflation, reflected in the increasingly longer lines of people waiting to buy basic products, the empty shelves and the rising prices. ‘The prices in the open market, where the law of offer and demand rules, have soared in recent months. For example, a carton of 30 eggs cannot be found in state stores” except once per month with a ration card, Mesa-Lago said. ‘In the free market, you could find it years ago for 87 pesos. Now they cost 175 pesos. That means the price has doubled, and that’s happened with other food prices” (Miami Herald, December 1, 2020)

One solution to this dire scenario would be to expand the private sector and micro-enterprises, Mesa-Lago said. The number of employed rose by 102,520 in 2019, with 89 percent of them in the private sector. The government then [announced the elimination of] the list of allowed self-employed jobs in August, and in November, [Reuters] reported that thousands of small government-owned enterprises would be shifted to the private sector. ‘This is something that is positive, if it’s done quickly and without roadblocks,’ Mesa-Lago said. It is expected that with the change in the current exchange rate, many state enterprises will go bankrupt. The government, which already has failed to make some payments on its foreign debt, will allow some of these inefficient enterprises to disappear, officials have said. Economists said part of those enterprises’ employees might shift to the private sector.” (Miami Herald, December 1, 2020)

Mauricio de Miranda Parrondo: “The official exchange rate adopted by the government is, in the face of market conditions, an overvalued exchange rate and an error from the onset. An overvalued exchange rate means that the national currency is worth more than it should be and that affects the competitiveness of exports and makes imports cheaper, so this won’t solve the problems that led to the adoption of the measure of devaluation that, incidentally, should have been adopted many years ago. It is very difficult to determine what the appropriate level of the exchange rate should be, but economic theory suggests that it should be around the equilibrium conditions that allow establishing the relative prices that connect the national economy with the international economy. But the Cuban economy has many price distortions, due to the maintenance for a long time of a totally unreal official exchange rate, also due to the segmentation of the markets and consequently, due to the disconnection of the national economy with the international one. In the absence of this, it would have been advisable to adopt an exchange rate that was close to current market conditions, as happened when the CADECAs were created, after overcoming the very serious devaluation of the peso on the black market when the US dollar It came to be worth between 120 and 130 Cuban pesos in the early 1990s.

“With the current shortage of foreign exchange, and with the impossibility, on the part of the State, of offering US dollars at 24 Cuban pesos, the logical thing is that a parallel market appears in which the dollar is quoted at a higher value, and we continue in the same boat. Dollars will be channeled into the informal market rather than into the formal market channels. Under these conditions, a considerable differential between the official exchange rate and the black market exchange rate can be created, which will benefit the operators of the latter and will create new distortions.” (Mauricio de Miranda Parrondo blog, December 10, 2020)

Prices in private sector to be fixed?: Among multiple price controls expected in attempt to stave off inflation, perhaps the most worrisome according to economist Pedro Monreal is Sunday’s announcement that prices in private sector activity will not be allowed to increase more than threefold regardless of market needs.




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