Long lines form to view, buy pricey goods in Havana
Ray Sanchez | Direct from Havana
8:55 PM EDT, April 1, 2008
On the first day of sales of DVD players, motorbikes and other
electronics to the general public, long lines formed outside state
department stores on Tuesday.
Still, most Cubans came to gawk at pricey consumer electronics that were
previously prohibited from store shelves. With state wages averaging
about $20 a month, many of the new items were out of reach for most.
"It's like Christmas in April," said Reynaldo, a 47-year-old hotel
worker who snapped up a $160 Panasonic DVD player at a central Havana
shopping center. "Now I probably won't be able to make another big
purchase until Christmas."
Resolution No. 43/08, which allows the purchase of dozens of consumer
electronics from the state, was the first of three modest reforms Raul
Castro's government quietly unveiled in efforts to liberalize internal
restrictions on the island's 11 million inhabitants. The goods
previously were available only to foreigners.
Absent from stores Tuesday were two highly anticipated items – computers
and microwaves. Sales clerks said the prices of laptop and desktop
computers as well as other items had to sorted out. Those goods would
become available soon.
"It's great to see all this stuff," said Maribel, 27, a nurse who lives
on $18 a month. "One day I will be able to buy something. But not now."
The first reform since Raul Castro assumed the presidency last month
opened tourist hotels to Cubans for the first time in more than a
decade. The hard currency hotels were formerly reserved exclusively for
foreigners and certain Cubans, a controversial practice that gave rise
to the charge of tourism apartheid against the communist government. The
ban on tourist hotels and car rentals were lifted at midnight Monday.
Starting April 14, Cubans will be able to buy cell phones and open
service contracts in their names. The cost of activating a cell phone
line will be $120. Rates will be the same as those for businesses and
foreigners – the only ones allowed cell phone access now.
Many Cubans obtained cell phone lines in the name of foreigners. They
will now be able to switch over service in their own names.