Cubans line up to buy cell phones

April 15th, 2008 - 10:07 pm ICT by admin  

Havana, April 15 (IANS) With reforms gaining pace under President Raul Castro, hundreds of Cubans are flocking to state-owned telephone offices to buy mobile phones once allowed only to government officials and foreigners. Since the sale began Monday, hundreds of people were seen lining up outside state-owned telephone company ETECSA offices, Spain’s EFE news agency reported Tuesday.

President Raul Castro, who took power in February, has moved quickly to ease restrictions in the communist country to make life easier for the people.

The latest of the reforms allows Cubans to buy mobile phones for the first time or register those they had been possessing illegally.

The president earlier had given the green signal for Cubans to stay in tourist hotels, and buy computers and household appliances. He also ordered a restructuring of the agricultural sector.

According to ETECSA officials, the turnout of cell phone buyers was huge in the early morning hours.

“As far as we’re concerned, let it (the rush for buying mobile phones) stay like this,” Odalis, an employee at an ETECSA office in Havana’s Vedado neighbourhood said.

The number of customers showing up at other offices authorised to open new wireless accounts from Old Havana to Miramar was also large, even though getting the service costs 111 Cuban convertible pesos, or CUCs (equal to roughly $120) in a country where the average monthly salary is around $17.

ETECSA had announced March 28 that Cuban citizens who skirted the law to obtain mobile phones “indirectly” would be able to regularise their possession of the phones.

Standing in front of a display window of mobile handsets costing between 60 and 260 CUCs, Elena, a 53-year-old housewife, said her mother-in-law was funding her phone purchase.

“I don’t have any money, but my mother-in-law is giving it to me. That way I can resolve the problem of not having a telephone,” she said.

Although a 20-CUC prepaid card is enough to call a number in the US (one of the cheapest countries to call from Cuba) for slightly more than six minutes, ETECSA employees told EFE that the majority of people use the cell phones to get calls and send text messages.

Employees of foreign-owned firms receive some remuneration in CUCs, and people who get remittances in dollars from relatives in the United States can exchange their greenbacks for CUCs.

Raul Castro, younger brother of Fidel Castro, the architect of Cuban Revolution, was installed as president last month after serving as provisional leader since Fidel fell ill in July 2006.

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