Apartheid en Cuba
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    Cuba's pressure-cooker pace of change

    Cuba's pressure-cooker pace of change
    Rigoberto Diaz | Havana, Cuba
    02 April 2008 06:09

    It took Fidel Castro four decades to accept limited economic reform in
    communist Cuba, but it has taken his brother, Raul Castro, the President
    since February, just weeks to launch a flurry of changes.

    On Tuesday, Cubans lined up outside stores to gawk at, and enjoy the new
    right to buy, appliances such as pressure cookers, DVDs and electric
    bikes. The government, since 2003, had banned their sale amid severe
    power shortages.

    And this was no ordinary consumer experience: plenty of demand, low
    supplies and zero financing.

    In a country where the average monthly salary is 408 pesos ($17), window
    shopping was the watchword.

    "I came just to look. With the 200 [Cuban] pesos (about $9) I get for my
    retirement, I wasn't going to be buying. But I think it's great that
    whoever has their money can," said a 70-ish woman who refused to give
    her name.

    And on the first day that many items such as microwaves and computers
    were directly available to Cuban consumers, several items — out of most
    Cubans' financial reach for now — had yet to make it on to store shelves.

    But "I am really happy about the changes, and with my little pressure
    cooker", glowed Marlen Perez, a university student shopping at Havana's
    Galerias Paseo mall.

    "I got it for 35 convertible pesos ($37,80), which is about half the
    price on the black market; I just love it," Perez said.

    Access to appliances was just the latest of some traditional "bans" to
    be dumped by Raul Castro (76), five weeks after taking over permanently
    after the ailing Fidel Castro (81), who did not seek re-election.

    On Monday, the government dropped its controversial ban on Cubans
    staying in hotels reserved for the tourists who generate the lion's
    share of the Caribbean island's hard currency. Some rights groups had
    dubbed it "tourist apartheid".

    The change is expected to be a welcome one for Cubans living abroad who
    come home for visits and want to treat relatives to hotel stays. Cubans
    living here will not be stampeding hotels where rooms often range from
    over $100 to $300 a night.

    The government also on Monday made it possible for Cubans to rent cars.
    It sounds nice but the price, at international levels in hard currency,
    is not right for Cubans.

    "Those measures are more political than economic, because who is going
    to go to a hotel or rent a car?" — paying in hard currency — asked
    engineer Alfredo Rodines (43). "Still, people like to know that they
    have the freedom to do it," he added.

    Lazaro Paneque, a 34-year-old bricklayer, marvelled at the prices.

    "Those prices are still really high; if you buy a DVD for 115
    convertible pesos, that is 2 700 [Cuban] pesos — almost half of what I
    earn in an entire year."

    On April 14, all Cubans also for the first time will be allowed to sign
    contracts for cellphones.

    Cuba watchers say there is likely a short-term political benefit of
    allowing greater economic openness, though they also warn many changes
    in the Americas' only centrally controlled, one-party regime could build
    pressure for more change than the government is prepared to allow. — AFP


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