Cubans rush to buy DVD players, electric bikes
Tue Apr 1, 2008 3:09pm EDT
By Rosa Tania Valdes
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans crowded shops on Tuesday to buy DVD players
and electric bikes that went on sale for the first time as new President
Raul Castro moved to lift many restrictions in the one-party socialist
Stores were authorized to sell dozens of electric goods that were
previously banned, including microwave ovens, flat-screen televisions
and even computers.
"This should have been done long ago. They should never have been
banned," said Felipe, a 53-year-old engineer, who lined up impatiently
to buy his first DVD player.
The Philips and Panasonic DVD players were priced between $118 and $162,
much more expensive than in other countries but lower than the going
rate on Cuba's thriving black-market.
Raul Castro succeeded his ailing brother Fidel Castro as president on
February 24, promising to lift "excessive prohibitions" on daily life in
His government has since moved quickly to allow Cubans to buy cellular
phones and stay at hotels previously reserved for foreigners.
The changes made so far by Cuba's first new leader in half a century are
aimed at reducing pent up frustrations in the country of 11 million
where the ruling Communist Party has a firm grip on power.
Cubans welcomed greater access to consumer goods that are available
virtually anywhere else in the world.
"After so many years of restrictions, this is great. Now Cubans have new
options and I can resolve my transport problem," said Raydel Leyva, 42,
the first at a Havana shopping center to buy a battery-driven moped made
in China and priced at $900.
"These measures are meant to improve life and make us feel better living
in our country," he said.
With wages averaging $17 a month in Cuba, many of the new goods on sale
were out of reach for most pockets, but even some of those who could not
afford to buy anything were happy they are now available.
"The prices are astronomical. But at least I have the choice, and I can
save up to buy things I want. People will work harder to buy them," said
Gelis, a self-employed tennis coach.
Computers, which until now could only be bought in Cuba by government or
foreign companies, were also supposed to go on sale but none had changed
hands by Tuesday afternoon.
At a shop in western Havana, Microsoft keyboards and mouses were on
show, but Dell laptops and desktop computers were still in their boxes
awaiting for prices to be decided.
A saleswoman said computers with 80 gigabytes of hard drive memory, 512
megabytes of RAM and a Celeron P4 chip made by Intel would sell for
"I have been saving up for three years, since I was 15, and I think I am
close to buying one," said Paula, a university student waiting for the
new stock to come in.
Cubans have to pay for the consumer goods in hard currency CUCs, or
convertible pesos, worth 24 times more than the Cuban pesos that state
wages are paid in.
About 60 percent of Cubans have access to CUCs, through cash remittances
from relatives in the United States, bonuses, tips from tourists and
black market dealings.
Havana shops had on sale 21-inch flat-screen television sets and home
theater sets worth more than $1,300. It would take a Cuban with average
six years to earn enough to buy one.
"This is all good and fine, but my purchasing power is too low to buy
anything," said Yaima, a teacher who earns 592 pesos a month, about
$26.60. "I'll have to wait until they strengthen the peso."
(For special coverage from Reuters on the changes in Cuba, see: here)
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Writing by Anthony Boadle;
Editing by Kieran Murray)