Cubans can buy computers, but Web-access limited
Cuba eased restrictions on the sale of some consumer products — but
also warned against expectations of a salary increase.
Posted on Sat, Mar. 15, 2008
By PABLO BACHELET AND WILFREDO CANCIO ISLA
Opening a crack in Cuba's closely controlled communist economy, the
government reportedly will soon allow ordinary Cubans an unrestricted
possibility to purchase items such as computers and microwave ovens.
The move is viewed as part of the long-awaited reforms promised by Raúl
Castro, who has criticized the island's ''excess of prohibitions and
regulations'' since taking over Cuba's presidency from his brother Fidel
on Feb. 24.
A government memo obtained by the Reuters news agency showed that
restrictions on the sale of goods such as computers, DVD players and
microwave ovens will be lifted.
Computers were reserved for foreigners and companies and Cubans with
special government permission to buy them. Internet access remains
tightly restricted to foreigners and specially designated Cubans.
Permission for travelers to import some electronic goods such as DVD
players was approved last May.
But on Friday the Communist Party newspaper Granma published an
editorial trying to tamp down expectations, saying bolder reforms would
have to wait until productivity improved.
The memo issued to all government stores said the open sale of consumer
goods will have a staggered roll-out: DVD and video players, microwave
ovens and computers would be sold to all comers immediately, as well as
electric pressure cookers and rice cookers, electric bicycles and car
Energy-hungry items like air conditioners and water heaters will have to
wait until April of next year. Kitchen stoves, ovens and toasters will
have to wait even longer, until 2010, due to tight supplies.
Certain kinds of TV sets, which before were only available in
hard-currency stores, would be sold more widely, according to Reuters
and other published reports.
The memo cites an easing of the island's energy crunch as a reason for
allowing the sale of more consumer products. The goods will initially be
available in three government-owned stores in Havana.
Granma's editorial also hinted that Cubans would be given greater access
to tourist hotels. Signed by Lázaro Barredo, a member of the National
Assembly, it lumped hotel access together with consumer goods as part of
a set of prohibitions that most Cubans despise.
But with the average Cuban making only $15 a month, a $1,000 computer or
$100 weekend getaway at the beach is beyond the reach of most family
Echoing Castro's cautious style, Granma's editorial sought to manage
expectations by warning that a salary boost would not occur anytime soon.
One thing is to tackle ''certain restrictions'' like Cubans' access to
tourist hotels, Barredo wrote, and quite another to do away with Cuba's
dual currency system. Most salaries are in pesos but prices for many
goods are pegged to ''hard pesos'' known as CUCs and equal to 25 pesos.
The dual currency system gives much stronger purchasing power to those
who have access to hard currencies. Low salaries is one of the most
frequently cited criticisms in Cuba.
''It is no doubt essential to improve services, consumption, to have
products and resources,'' Barredo wrote “These won't fall from the sky,
they arise from work and from a higher salary for the person who