The theft of thousands of surgical masks in Cuba reveals how the island’s active black market has adapted quickly to the coronavirus pandemic.
In early April, more than 4,500 surgical masks in 455 boxes were pilfered from state warehouses, Cuban state-owned publication Cubadebate reported. A search of a home in Villa Clara recovered almost 3,000 of the masks, along with scalpels, gowns, a computer and other medical equipment. Eight people were arrested in connection with the theft, including warehouse employees and drivers for the public health ministry.
By April 20, Cuba had 1,087 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases and 36 deaths. Thriving black markets, such as Cuba’s, are adapting quickly to the need for critical medical supplies amid the coronavirus health crisis.
The theft, which occurred a month after Cuban authorities confirmed the first cases of coronavirus on the island in early March, did not surprise experts who point out that Cuba’s black markets are driven by high demand for chronically unavailable goods.
For example, diesel theft in Cuba surged in 2019 as sanctions on Venezuela sharply cut into the island nation’s oil supplies.
But where contraband in Latin America often moves across borders, Cuba’s black markets are internal. Goods brought in from overseas can fetch high prices, often from people who have access to remittances.
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