Connect to share and comment

Cuba's Craigslist

From sex toys to old Chevys, takes communist Cuba's black market to the web.

Like this car? You can buy it, or something like it, on Cuba's version of Craigslist. This is one of the vintage cars that operate as taxis in Havana. (Desmond Boylan/Reuters)

HAVANA — On this Communist-run island, the black market is a vast, irrepressible force, an underground river of unlicensed services, goods pilfered from government stores and coveted items carried in from abroad. Cuban authorities go to great lengths to curtail it; they cannot.

Over the years, buying and selling en la calle — in the street — has been practiced by generations of Cubans forced to make ends meet in a state-controlled economy where official wages are woefully inadequate and most forms of private commerce are banned.

But Cuba’s informal economy is an imperfect marketplace. Without advertising, it relies heavily on word-of-mouth, and its commercial activity tends to flourish in small circles — among neighbors, coworkers and other trusted acquaintances.

Then came Its name essentially translates as “disarray,” and while Havana residents jokingly call it “the Cuban eBay,” the site is really closer to Craigslist. For Cubans who make a living through the black market, it's a godsend.

Like its American cousin, Revolico is a free classified service that functions as a digital bazaar for a broad range of goods and services, with headings like Housing, For Sale and Classes. If you have internet access, and you’re looking for a golden retriever, a cheap housecleaner or the latest episodes of the HBO series "True Blood," then Revolico is your place.

Many of the ads on the site propose transactions that are perfectly legal in Cuba — or at least tolerated by authorities. One user posted a recent ad offering to rent rooms in his Havana home for $30 a night, emphasizing that he was fully licensed. Another ad offered $12 men’s razors — “GUILLETT (sic) MACH 3 TURBO” — from a vendor who clearly wasn’t authorized to sell them but probably wouldn’t attract police, either.

Of course, Revolico is also a clearinghouse for more serious illegal activities, including several that could lead to arrest and harsh punishment in this country — or in the United States.

“If you want to make a deal to leave the island, send me an email with your contact information,” wrote one user claiming to be a 24-year-old Cuban American woman traveling to the island with the intention of setting up a fraudulent marriage. “Half the money when we start the process, half the money at the end,” she wrote. “Price is negotiable.”

Several other postings were also targeted at Cubans looking to leave the island, mostly through fake marriages, while others sought travelers who could procure specific items abroad for resale on the black market — clothes, electronics and other goods. Satellite receivers linked to Direct TV or Dish Network accounts in the U.S. also appear to be in high demand on the site.