Cuba Eases Restrictions on Consumer Buying

April 15, 2008 09:31 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Cubans now have access to products once reserved for foreigners. But few can afford them, and observers wonder if the reforms mark progress or just window-dressing.

30-Second Summary

Calling the former restrictions “excessive,” Raul Castro has lifted legal bans on Cubans buying or owning items like DVD players and computers, or staying in tourist hotels.

However, most workers can't take advantage of their new buying power. Microwaves are now legally available, but as one teacher said, "I can't [even] afford to buy food to cook in pots."

The average monthly wage in Cuba is about $17, according to Reuters. Wages are usually paid in pesos, but most merchandise is priced in convertible pesos, worth approximately 24 times more. Only 60 percent of the country's population has access to the convertible peso.

"Computers and hotels are not the top economic concern to most Cubans,” Cuba expert Philip Peters told the Christian Science Monitor. “Their salaries don't give them purchasing power to buy basic necessities."

Raul Castro, who became Cuba’s leader when his brother Fidel stepped down in early 2008, says he is considering additional steps to address financial inequalities. Plans include a new labor code that does not limit wages for people who receive state salaries, such as teachers and doctors, Reuters reported.

"The reforms introduced seem designed to make ordinary daily life easier," according to William LeoGrande, another Cuba expert at American University. "It also shows a degree of political confidence, that they can open up information flows and that it won't threaten them."

But some critics say such changes simply polish Raul Castro’s image without any real benefit to Cubans, calling instead for human rights reforms such as the release of jailed political prisoners.

"Just because they changed the government does not mean anything [else] will really change," Havana activist Georgina Noa Montes says. "It is a dog with a different collar."

Headline Links: Financial reforms highlight Cuba’s inequalities

Opinions & Analysis: Many Cubans skeptical of changes

Background: Fidel Castro ends 49 years in power

Key Player: Raul Castro

Historical Context: The Cuban Revolution

Reference: Cuba’s recent past and the Soviet collapse


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