Fidel Castro

Here’s how Fidel Castro toilet paper is boosting Miami’s economy

Toilet paper emblazoned with an image of Fidel Castro.
Toilet paper emblazoned with an image of Fidel Castro.

Sentir Cubano waited for this moment.

For more than a decade, the small shop near Little Havana that sells Cuban groceries and souvenirs has been patiently marketing a prized item: a party kit celebrating the death of Fidel Castro.

The “Viva Cuba Libre” kit retails for $24.99 and includes a bottle of non-alcoholic apple cider labeled “Open only when Castro dies,” toilet paper emblazoned with the former dictator’s face, and a T-shirt that reads “Muerto el perro, se acabo la rabia” ( “When the dog dies, the rabies go away.”)

Sold separately: bottles of “Burn in Hell, Fidel” hot sauce.

On Saturday, with Castro finally dead after years of false alarms, owner Maria Vazquez said she sold 120 kits in the shop and more online. Her business, always strong on Thanksgiving weekend, soared 50 percent. She ran out of Cuban flags.

“It’s a way of finding closure for people,” said Vazquez, whose store and warehouse employ 13 people. “They are feeling proud of their roots. Even Venezuelans and Colombians wanted to have a Cuban flag.”

After Miami’s Wizard of Oz moment early Saturday morning, tens of thousands of locals spent the weekend on the street. Vendors hawked hats, water, flags and pins. Stores opened early and closed late.

That little pop of activity could give South Florida a short-term economic boost and lift consumer confidence, economists say.

“It’s tough to measure but major news events certainly stimulate spending,” said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida. “A lot of consumer confidence is psychological.”

Snaith said news that brings communities together (he pointed to the Chicago Cubs winning a World Series after a 107-year championship drought) often provides a minor jolt to the economy.

“It opens up pocket books,” he said.

So far in 2016, South Florida’s economy hasn’t grown as quickly as the rest of the state. That’s because of negative macroeconomic trends such as Zika, a strong dollar and recessions in Latin America. A contentious election didn’t help.

One weekend of spending won’t change the big picture. But it feels good for business owners after months of bad news.

At chain restaurant La Carreta in heavily Hispanic Westchester, manager Joaquín Perales reported sales spiking by 30 percent after Castro’s death, making it one of the busiest weekends of the year. The bestsellers were Cuban culinary classics: lechón, pastelitos and strong, sweet coffee.

“It was kind of a mess, but everybody was happy,” Perales said. “They were dancing and singing.”

Joaquín Delgado, who left Cuba as a young man, joined the joyous celebrations of Castro’s death in Miami Sunday night. The next morning, he and his wife Pilar returned for a light breakfast at Versailles, the Cuban restaurant that is the heart of anti-Castro feeling in the United States. Normally, the couple of 44 years wouldn’t come back so soon.

“We just wanted to watch the enthusiasm of all the people again,” said Delgado, a retired engineer who spent about $9 on croquetas and Cuban coffee.

Out-of-towners also dropped by Versailles to eat and see the crowds.

“You really appreciate what this means to people seeing it in person,” said Marsha André, a therapist from Washington, D.C., visiting Miami with her family.

Any long-term boost to South Florida’s economy will depend on the approach President-elect Donald Trump takes to the isolated island nation. It’s not clear if he will continue the Obama administration’s thawing of relations with Cuba.

On Monday, Trump tweeted: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”

The pro-business president-elect is caught between two forces: The large American corporations that want to do business in Cuba and conservative Cuban Americans who want nothing to do with what is still a Castro regime.

“I think there are more interested parties in the American business community than there have been in a long time that will push to keep the slow opening on track,” said Mekael Teshome, an economist at PNC Bank. “And Miami could very well benefit by being a hub for expanded access to Cuba.”