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Mir Cards in Cuba: A Russian Payment System's Operational Hurdles

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Olalekan Adigun
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Mir Cards in Cuba: A Russian Payment System's Operational Hurdles

Inside the quaint Casa del Café Mamá Inés, nestled in the heart of Old Havana, an emblem of Russia's economic reach is making an appearance. The Mir card, a Russian electronic payment system, recently implemented in Cuba, is experiencing significant operational hiccups. Despite initial demonstrations of successful transactions by Russian officials, and the prominent display of a sticker indicating the acceptance of Mir cards, employees report frequent errors during the processing of transactions.

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Payment Problems and Limited Use

The café, a part of a military-owned franchise, has a selective payment system. It does not accept cash rubles, only cards from Russian tourists, who are relatively scarce in the region. Cuban nationals can only use Mir cards if they have a bank account in Russia. The café also accepts Visa, Mastercard, and currency in freely convertible money (MLC), yet Cuban pesos find no place in this monetary ecosystem.

Challenging Digital Landscape

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Cuba's broader context of frequent internet connectivity problems, power outages, and slow electronic processes complicates all digital payments, not just those with Mir cards. The Cuban government views the successful integration of Mir cards as a key step in their alliance with Moscow, aiming for a digitalized market for better control. Yet, the reality seems to challenge this vision.

Cultural Stereotyping and Market Expansion

The café's decorations echo cultural stereotyping. The neighboring store, El Galeón, is also accepting Mir cards and has been featured in a Cuban television report. Yet, the ideological proximity of Havana and Moscow does not translate into a smooth payment process. The existing infrastructure in Cuba seems unprepared for the Mir payment system, with transactions as slow as those with cards from 'the enemy'.

Despite the initial challenges, the introduction of the Mir card in Cuba symbolizes the shifting global alliances and the complex nature of international relations following Russia's actions in Ukraine. While the expansion of the Mir network faces hurdles due to Russia's ongoing conflict in Ukraine and international pushback, the adoption of Mir cards in Cuba and other nations like Venezuela, signifies Russia's attempts to maintain financial connectivity amidst widespread international criticism and sanctions.

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