Sunday, August 28, 2016

Moscow Does Not Fit In A Suitcase

Moscow Does Not Fit In A Suitcase / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 25 August 2016 – For decades visiting
Moscow was the golden dream, but only the most trusted could enjoy a
stay in the Soviet Union. From these trips to the "godmother nation"
they returned with suitcases filled with products unavailable in Cuba.
Today, some take the same route, but this time they shop in a Russia
with a market economy and well-stocked stores.

Most of them are "mules" who make the long journey to Pushkin's native
land to bring back shoes, clothing and Lada or Moskvitch car parts,
which they sell in the informal market. Those with more resources pay
for their own airline tickets, knowing that they can make back the
money; but others offer the room in their suitcases in search of an
investor to pay for the trip.

With the restrictions imposed late last year on the entry of Cubans to
Ecuador, one of the most important routes of imports for the black
market was closed. Russia, however, has continued its policy of not
requiring visas from residents of the island, so the "mules" have
reoriented their travel to Moscow, a route also widely used to emigrate.

The travel agency Ancon, located in a spacious property on Linea Street
in Havana's Vedado district, is taking advantage of the growth in
interest in Russia to offer "shopping trip" packages to Moscow. There is
no shortage of customers and the tour operator focuses on organizing
visits to markets, filling travelers' suitcases and facilitating getting
the merchandise back to the island.

Vladimir Putin's Russia has a commercial network unthinkable in Raul
Castro's Cuba. While the shelves of Havana stores display the same
products over and over again, or are empty, Moscow's markets are a
permanent temptation to the wallet.

"The travel agency is part of the Russian company Kompozit 21 and has
been operating in Cuba for three years," says Ada Soto, an employee of
Ancon. The CEO is Nikolay Popov, but in a spacious 16th floor apartment,
two Cubans manage reservations and sales.

Soto explained to 14ymedio that since early this year business has
significantly increased. Cubans who contract their services are received
by one of their compatriots based in Moscow who greets them at the
airport and will answer any questions in Spanish, while leading them to
their hotel arranged from the island.

The seven-day packages that costs not more than $500 for accommodation,
transfers and a guide, are the most sought after and the highlight is
the tour of the a visit to the Sadovod marlet, a shopping mall with
wholesale deals and more than 4,500 stores.

Most customers prefer to focus on shops and ignore Ancon's cultural
program with visits to museum. Cuban travelers seem more interested in
the goods on offer and the sales rather than taking a look at the Red

Vivian, 32, made the trip earlier this year. She says she spent it
"eating hamburgers and pizza," while acknowledging that "the Russian
language is a bit of a problem, but if you speak some English and with a
calculator in hand, no problem." Together with her husband they bouhgt
two passages and hired the services of Ancon. "It was a business trip,"
she says.

The couple spent a day in Moscow in the Saviolovskiyo electronics market
to stock up on photography and video equipment, mobile phones, tablets
and other electronic devices, merchandise that can be sold at three
times its value in the Cuban black market.

Vivian fed her nostalgia for the times when the Kremlin and Revolution
Square were close with some Russian souvenirs, like matryoshka nesting
dolls and decorated wooden crafts. She also fulfilled the request of her
father in the Puerto Sur car market, buying some spare parts for his Volga.

The young woman's husband was delighted with the Sokolniki shopping
center with accessories for Jawa, Voskhod, Minsk, Karpati and Riga
motorcycles, models that circulate widely on Cuba's streets. With a
couple of purchases made at the request of some friends he said he would
"recover nearly half the money spent on tickets."

The agency handled the transfer of goods to the hotel, gave them the use
of a cellphone, and helped them manage the payment for an extra
suitcase, in addition to the 33 kilograms they could bring home free,
between a large bag and a piece of hand luggage.

On Revolico, the classified site similar to a Cuban Craigslist, they
rented coats and boots because it was still "quite cold" when they
landed in Moscow. The couple hopes to repeat the trip in late September
and has already bought the tickets on Aeroflot for 630 convertible pesos

"I've realized a dream of my lifetime because when I was a chiquita my
father went to Moscow on a trip he earned as a bonus for being a
vanguard worker, but my trip was for shopping," enthused Vivian while
showing off some of her purchases. Unlike her father, she didn't have to
work overtime or demonstrate ideological fidelity to realize her dream.

Source: Moscow Does Not Fit In A Suitcase / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar –
Translating Cuba -
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