HomeNewsAnalysisFor Cuban Government, Desperate Resellers are Dangerous Criminals

For Cuban Government, Desperate Resellers are Dangerous Criminals


The Cuban government has sent squads of military and police to end a spike in the selling of goods on the black market amid the pandemic, but the response seems likely to only criminalize citizens in difficult economic straits.

In early August, over 3,000 groups of army, police and government officials were  dispatched across the country to stop "hoarders" from buying essential goods in quantities exceeding state-set limits and then reselling them to the public at inflated prices, Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said during a TV interview.

The squads will seek to prevent reselling at specific shops, malls, pharmacies and hardware stores, as well as online sellers, though few specifics have been given about what actions they will take. Recently, state-owned media has ramped up aggressive language to depict resellers as enemies of the people, saying that they "no humanity" and insisting they should be "taken off the streets."

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Cuba

In July, reports surfaced of resellers being arrested and quickly tried. While most were heavily fined, an elderly man in the western province of Matanzas was jailed for reselling 100 screws, Diario de Cuba reported.

Though Cuba has long had a thriving black market, prices for food, cleaning supplies and clothing have surged during the pandemic amid shortages. A CubaNet investigation revealed how resellers -- who join lines that can last for hours at specific stores -- buy more items than the legal limit. They then sell them, mostly online, through messaging applications like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Telegram. Facebook Messenger is the most popular app due to users not needing to enter a phone number that could be tracked by authorities.

Since last year, the government has passed a number of measures to restrict stocks of essential goods at risk of running out due to the country's worsening economic crisis. Price controls were imposed in September 2019. In April, due to the pandemic, outdoor markets were closed and each shopper was limited to buying two of each kind of item at state-owned stores, CubaNet reported.

But scarcity at mandated government stores has only exacerbated reselling. In late July, reports emerged of stores rapidly running out of essentials like chicken and soap. Some were left with little more than yogurt.

Buying products on the black market, even at highly inflated prices, has essentially become a means of survival for many Cubans, according to CubaNet.

InSight Crime Analysis

The government’s crackdown on the Cuban black market is troubling for two main reasons.

First, resellers and those who buy from them are not criminals seeking to undermine the island’s economic model. They are simply trying to get by in tough times.

“They are not hoarders. They are people who do this because they don’t have any other economic choice. They are often unemployed single mothers, who can dedicate their time to hunt products in various shops ... they are not sitting on products waiting for the price to go up, they need money to invest again,” Laura Rodríguez, the journalist who led the CubaNet investigation, told InSight Crime.

SEE ALSO: Coronavirus Driving Black Market for Medical Equipment in Cuba

César Mendoza, a Cuba expert at the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), added that the vision of hoarders clearing out stores is inaccurate because individuals do not have the financial ability to do so. “They are not buying thousands of items, just four or five to later resell on the black market,” he told InSight Crime.              

It is also unclear what alternate route the government wishes people to take. The island's residents wait on interminable lines at government shops only to find empty shelves. Online stores created by authorities have also run out of products, when they were accessible at all.

“If the government is not capable of establishing a sales network, this illegal market has done it,” said Rodríguez.

Secondly, Cuba has a troubling history of violence linked to “rapid response brigades” made up of police, military and other government forces. First deployed in the 1990s by the late former President Fidel Castro to crackdown on political opposition, the brigades continue to be used today and have been linked to violence against protesters and property destruction.

These rapid response brigades, according to some analysts, are the forebears of the “colectivos” in Venezuela. These armed civilian groups have acted as paramilitary squads in defense of the regime of President Nicolás Maduro, and they have also been linked to homicides, kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


Haiti is reconstituing its previously disbanded army after more than two decades, amid concerns about growing insecurity as a United…


Nicaragua's government is facing growing calls to combat illegal livestock trafficking, an activity that frequently goes hand in hand with…

COLOMBIA / 15 MAY 2014

A recent study of the illicit liquor market in six countries in Latin America documents the size and scope of…

About InSight Crime


Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…


Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…


Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…


InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…


Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…