Most people don’t think of Haiti as a shopping destination. Unless they’re Cuban.
Every afternoon, hundreds of Cubans swarm a rutted crossroads in the capital of the hemisphere’s poorest nation, hunting clothes, light bulbs, perfume and other goods that are in short supply back home.
Haitian vendors blast Cuban reggaeton music to draw in shoppers. In a year-old cafe painted with Cuban flags, Havana-born Angelina Luis Dominguez and her niece Yeleny Terry Luis serve black beans, rice and roast pork to compatriots on lunch breaks.
“There are thousands, thousands of Cubans,” Luis Dominquez said. “There used to be four or five; now they’ve taken root. It feels like all of Cuba is here.”
The “Cuban market” in Port-au-Prince is part of a global trade, estimated to top $2 billion, fed by the confluence of Cubans’ increased freedom to travel with the communist state’s continued domination of the economy back home.
Clothing, housewares, hardware, personal-care products and other goods at state-run stores in Cuba cost two or three times what they do elsewhere. And that’s when they are on sale at all in an economy hampered by incessant shortage. What’s more, Cuba’s state monopoly on imports and exports excludes the small but vibrant private sector, which employs more than a half million people who often earn three or four times a state worker’s salary.