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#274578 03/29/08 12:41 AM
Joined: Nov 2002
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Raul Castro: Cubans can have cell phones
By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer

HAVANA - First microwaves, now cell phones. Is this the new Cuba? Raul Castro is revolutionizing his brother's island in small but significant ways - the latest in a decree Friday allowing ordinary Cubans to have cell phone service, a luxury previously reserved for the select few. The new president could be betting greater access to such modern gadgets will quell demand for deeper change.

Many Cubans hope cell phones and new appliances are only the beginning for a post-Fidel Castro government that will improve their lives. Communist bureaucracy currently limits everything from Internet access to home ownership.

Could cellular phones in dissidents' hands give state security forces an edge in monitoring their conversations or tracking their movements by satellite? Perhaps, but government opponents - including the few who have cell phones - already assume someone's always listening.

Until now, the only people legally allowed to have a cell plan were foreigners, Cubans working for foreign companies and top government officials. Thousands more illegally use phones registered to foreign friends or relatives.

"Finally. We have waited too long for this," said Elizabeth, a middle-aged housewife waiting in line to pay her home telephone bill. She wouldn't give her last name because she already has a cell phone through a foreign co-worker of her husband.

The new program could put phones in the hands of hundreds of thousands of Cubans, especially those with relatives abroad who send them hard currency. But they will remain out of reach for most on the island because minutes are billed in convertible pesos - which cost Cubans 24 times the regular pesos they are paid in.

"I'd love one!" said Juan Quiala, a retiree living on a $10 monthly pension. "But how am I going to pay for it?"

The government controls over 90 percent of the economy, and while the communist system ensures most Cubans have free housing, education and health care and receive ration cards that cover basic food needs, the average monthly state salary is less than $20.

Nobody should expect to see iPhones for sale in Havana anytime soon. Although visitors who bring their Internet-equipped phones to Cuba can use them through Cuba's network, Cuba's cellular phone company offers such phones to only a limited number of corporate clients.

And despite cell-phone images from Tibet and Myanmar that gave the world a glimpse of repression in those closed societies, Cuba has made no attempt to ban phones with photo or video technology. In fact, some models are sold in government-run stores, and Cubans with illegally registered phones already use them to send snapshots off the island after uploading them onto a computer.

Of course, if unrest were to develop, Cuba's phone monopoly could close down such transmissions with the flick of a switch.

Friday's announcement came in a small black box on page 2 of the Communist Party newspaper Granma, which said details would be announced in the coming days. It was signed by the state-controlled telecommunications monopoly, a joint venture of Cuba's government and Italy's Telecom Italia.

Limited cell phone service has been available in Cuba since 1991. Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., or ETECSA, has invested heavily in Cuba's fiber optic network in recent years and clearly believes it is ready to handle heavier traffic.

It also expects a nice profit - enough to let it offer cellular lines in regular Cuban pesos at some point in the future.

It's unclear which manufacturers will be tapped to provide cell phones to an expanded Cuban market. For now, very basic phones bought in bulk from Nokia Corp. or Motorola Inc. are sold. A few phones on sale Friday offered basic camera functions, but those retailed for as much as $280.

The decree came a week after a resolution promising consumer goods including PCs, DVD players, car alarms and televisions of all sizes will go on sale in state-run stores Tuesday. Those goods previously could be purchased only by foreigners and companies.

And in December, the government distributed about 3,000 microwaves made by South Korea's Daewoo Electronics. Local authorities say the pilot program, in a town outside Havana, could lead to a nationwide offering of microwaves on long-term credit.

"We are progressing with the world," said Havana resident Jorge Chavez. "Progress had to reach us, too."

The small steps could help push back demands for greater change that many Cubans have made since an ailing, 81-year-old Fidel Castro stepped down from the presidency last month.

His 76-year-old brother has repeatedly said there will be no major changes in the island's economic and political systems, but has also made clear he understands that Cubans' salaries barely cover their most basic needs.

Some of the measures he has promoted appear designed to make life more pleasant without requiring any major systemic reforms. The younger Castro has pushed for an overhaul of the dilapidated public transportation system with thousands of new buses, and for increased agricultural production to ensure everyone has plenty to eat.

But some said the latest measure was less than revolutionary.

"Suddenly, there will be a lot more people talking on the phone," said Quiala, the retiree. "But not much else will change."

Live and let live
Joined: May 2007
Posts: 4,701
gee wonder if they'll work from the boats? Can call USCG when they get half way over. :-)

Joined: Jan 2001
Posts: 3,677
A good way to let the Cuban citizens get rid of discretionary income. How about the brain cancer thing?

Been there, done that, the washing machine ate the T-shirt
Joined: Nov 2002
Posts: 3,484
I don't think they want to get pepper sprayed from the USCG. Perhaps they'll call their family to pick them up and the Cuban Gov't won't have to pay them their monthtly stipend.

Check out my site:
Joined: May 2007
Posts: 4,701
cellphones, now hotels: Cuba relaxes rules
April 2nd, 2008 - 10:01 am ICT by admin - Email This Post
By Silvia Ayuso
Havana, April 2 (DPA) Entering a luxury hotel, checking in and making the most of all the facilities and services it offers - what seems like a normal option in many countries has caused a stir in Cuba. Since midnight Monday, following prohibition lasting over a decade, Cubans may now lodge in top-notch hotels with no restrictions other than their cost.

They can also rent a car or join tours that were until now only for foreign tourists.

Access to such activities was one of the hoped-for reforms after Raul Castro indicated, in his inaugural speech as Cuban president Feb 24, that he would move to end an "excess in prohibitions and rules" within the "coming weeks".

The hotel access is the latest in a series of relaxation of rules that give Cubans more access to symbols of a modern lifestyle that had long been forbidden.

The retail sale of computers and electronic home appliances is to be allowed starting Tuesday, and new cellphone regulations are expected.

But none of the measures has been announced officially, and Cuban media did not report on the hotel access Monday.

Hotel managers themselves were surprised.

"We all heard about it last night," Roxana Prieto, commercial director of the Hotel Riviera, told DPA. "I did not expect it, it was a surprise."

"Plain and simply, all hotel managers were summoned and they were told that from midnight last night Cubans had the possibility to use all services available to foreigners, lodge in the hotels, rent a car, go on tours," Prieto explained.

"It has been internal, remote-controlled news, many Cubans still do not know about it," confirmed a Hotel Nacional employee who did not want to reveal his name. "Among personnel (the news) has circulated by word of mouth."

However, if there is one thing that works fast in the Caribbean communist country, it is word of mouth, or Radio Bemba, as Cubans call it. In fact, Hotel Riviera received its first couple of Cuban guests on the very night the restriction was lifted, Prieto confirmed.

"We already have two Cuban guests staying since last night. They came and lodged," she said.

Prieto noted that the only conditions are those facing anyone who wants to check into a hotel - showing a document (an ID card, in the case of Cubans) and paying the bill, in cash or with a credit card.

The restriction was never based on a specific law, since the Cuban constitution grants all citizens access to the same resorts. It was rather an answer to the severe economic crisis of the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

There was also talk of the move in car rental agencies Monday.

"For us it is a huge surprise," said an employee of Cubanacar who chose to remain anonymous.

Until now, Cubans could not directly rent a car in one of the state-owned agencies, the only ones in the country, although the employee admitted that there were "tricks" around this.

"Usually a foreigner would rent and the Cuban would be the second driver," he explained. "Now, the Cuban can come and be the designated driver for the car."

He celebrated this and other measures, including the free retail sale of computers and cellphones, but stressed that "in other countries it is an implicit right."

"Computers, electronic bicycles and microwaves � well, the usual thing, what we are going to have is what anyone can have," he said in an ironic comment.

"Cubans are very happy. Even if most of them cannot afford this, at least it is no longer forbidden," he said.

With an average monthly wage of $17, international hotel prices - averaging some $150 per night for a double room - are very far from the reach of most Cubans who do not get remittances from abroad or obtain foreign currency some other way. The rental of a car is around $80 a day, a price that is also beyond most pockets.

However, observers agree that these measures are "psychological" and that Cubans will appreciate the chance to use these services if they ever can afford it.

Many locals had criticized the restriction on hotels, which some defined as Cuban "apartheid."

Ramon, a private chauffeur who earns around $50 a month, does not know when he will be able to spend a night at one of those luxury resorts he sees everyday from his car.

Still, he said the news is "wonderful" and celebrated the fact that Cubans "can now enjoy the facilities" in their own country.

"Now I see a little more freedom," he said hopefully.

whats next...............................TOASTERS? laugh

Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 13,675

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