Ray Sanchez | Direct from Havana
7:47 AM EDT, March 28, 2008
Ordinary Cubans will be allowed to buy cell phone service for the first
time, Cuba's phone company announced Friday.
The announcement, which came in a six-paragraph company statement
published in the state press, was the latest in a string of modest
changes introduced since Raul Castro took formally took over the
presidency last month from ailing brother Fidel.
There were few details but the ETECSA statement said that within days it
would inform the public about changes in cell phone ownership and
Until now, Cubans were able to acquire cell phone service only through
The communist island introduced cell phone service in 1991.
Cell phone service would involve prepaid cards and be paid for in hard
currency, the statement said.
The statement did not specify when the change would be implemented but
said that credits and technology obtained from other countries would
improve phone service for all Cubans in the coming years.
Since Raul Castro temporarily took over the country after his older
brother's emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006, Cubans have been
anticipating the lifting of many of the restrictions that circumscribe
their daily lives.
One change announced this week was that computers and other consumer
electronics would soon go on sale to the general public.
Many Cubans have expressed hopes that the near-worthless pesos they get
on their government paychecks will increase in value, that their
pensions and salaries will increase, and that they will be allowed to
travel abroad without government permission.
Many also talk about getting unlimited Internet access, although it is
too costly for most, and regaining access to hotels now restricted to
Until now, the communist government's campaign for egalitarianism
limited access to luxuries such as cell phones and private cars.
"I could use a cell phone," said Rodrigo Junco, 58, when informed about
the change in cell phone ownership. "Whether I can afford one is a
different story. But any change at this point is welcome."
The government provides free housing, education and health care as well
as ration cards that help cover the costs of basic food. While few
Cubans want to part with those benefits, many hope the new government
will bring about changes to allow for small quality-of-life improvements.
Nearly 80 percent of Cubans work for the government and the average
monthly state salary is about $20. Government economists estimate at
least 60 percent of Cubans have access to dollars, euros and other
foreign currency because of jobs in tourism, with foreign companies, or
through funds sent by relatives abroad.
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