BUENOS AIRES: “Does anyone know where yogurt’s available?” a woman asks a chat group. At the moment, no one can help – but someone has discovered cement and tiles at a store in the Cuban capital, Havanna. “Hurry though, the queue outside is already really long.”

“Who wants to trade toilet paper for shampoo?” someone else asks.

Cuba’s chronic shortages are worse than ever due to the coronavirus pandemic. Shops lack food, groceries and everyday items. And if they do get a delivery, residents start queueing up outside right away.

Standing in queues and waiting is part of everyday life in Cuba, now more than ever. But as more and more people gain access to the Internet, they are increasingly trying to get hold of goods and find bargains online, supplementing the island nation’s planned economy.

They join chat groups on messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Telegram to find out where what goods may be available, organise exchanges or offer to sell items that people are trying to get their hands on.

“Tomorrow there’ll be cleaning fluid at the Danubio store, people are already lining up,” one woman wrote in a Telegram group called Donde hay? (Where is That?). The chat group, whose description reads “share what you find and help others”, counts more than 7,800 members.

Mobile Internet has been available in Cuba since late 2018, and more than four million Cubans now have access, according to Granma, a party newspaper. Surfing the Web is expensive though, with rates ranging from US$5 (RM21) for 400MB to US$20 (RM83) for 2.5GB. Read More..