Cuba accuses online news site of US-backed plot to sabotage economy

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HAVANA (Reuters) – The Cuban government and independent online news site El Toque traded blows this week after state media accused the website of manipulating the black market exchange rate to impoverish Cubans and foment unrest on the Caribbean island.

The El Toque site (eltoque.com) has infuriated the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel by publishing a rate in Cuban pesos to the dollar that is much higher than the two official levels set by his government.

Cuban state media this week sharpened their long-running criticism of El Toque, claiming that the site’s currency tracker – by far the most widely used on the island – amounts to “financial terrorism.”

“El Toque is secretly financed by the United States and sets a false value of the peso against the dollar,” according to a story in state media outlet CubaDebate. “The strategy is aimed at inciting (large-scale) protests in Cuba.”

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations.

The row over the currency tracker comes as the Cuban peso currency alone is set to lose almost half of its value against the dollar by 2024, according to El Toque.

Cubans covet increasingly expensive dollars as a safe haven against currency shocks, but also for migration and purchases of food and fuel on an island that is increasingly dependent on the dollar.

El Toque defends its online exchange rate tracker, saying Cuba’s accusations, some of which could lead to criminal charges according to state media, are “ridiculous and unbelievable.”

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“The Communist Party has decided to scapegoat our platform, elToque, to justify its failure,” El Toque’s Miami-based editor-in-chief Jose Jasan Nieves said in an email message to readers.

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El Toque says it calculates its exchange rate using artificial intelligence to scan messages posted online in which buyers and sellers state their target buying or selling prices for the different currencies.

Independent economists on the island and beyond have said the peso’s rapid depreciation has led to a crippling contraction in domestic production and exports, a ballooning budget deficit and high demand for scarce dollars.

The Cuban government has promised for months to take decisive action to halt the peso’s decline, but has not yet announced any new measures.

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