Why Cuba's new Castro is loosening up
Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2008 12:47 PM
Filed Under: Havana, Cuba
By Mary Murray, NBC News Producer
On Thursday, Cuba authorized the unrestricted sale of computers, DVD and
video players and other appliances in a move that's being seen as an
effort by Cuba's new leader, Raul Castro, to appease some of the
grumbling by residents of the island.
Cuban consumers have complained for years that there is not much here to
The sale in government-run stores of most electrical appliances and
electronics have been carefully controlled for years – in many cases
restricting their sale to foreigners and Cuba's diplomatic community.
That hasn't meant, of course, that people didn't get their hands on
electronic goods. Almost anything here can be bought – mostly at
exorbitant prices – on Cuba's flourishing black market.
This move continues a trend Raul Castro began implementing nine months
ago, when he was still acting as Cuba's "temporary" leader for his
brother Fidel. He eased customs regulations in June 2007 that permit
imports of car parts, some electrical appliances and desktop computers
destined for family members on the island. Basically this was an
invitation to Miami and the rest of the Cuban diaspora to help out
relatives still on the island.
At the time the government said it was studying the repeal of
prohibitions on items such as microwaves and freezers.
People, though, continued to complain, demanding the right to buy
locally and at fair prices.
Thursday's measures list computers, video and DVD players, 19-inch and
24-inch television sets, electric pressure cookers and rice cookers,
electric bicycles, car alarms and microwaves as items that Cubans will
now be allowed to buy.
While some people here will rejoice in the changes, you have to remember
that most working people earn the equivalent of about $25 a month and
can barely make ends meet. All retail is run by the government and
averages a 240 percent markup as legislated by Cuban law.