Cuba is Lifting the Ban on Cellphones

Having Fidel Castro out of the day-to-day administration of the Caribbean island due to health issues, is paying off for the Cuban people. Fidel’s brother—Raul Castro, the top man on the island—recently approved the sale of various electronics, including DVD players, computers, toasters, 24-inch television sets and rice cookers for the first time.

This morning a hot new item was added to the list: cellphones. President Raul Castro’s government said it is allowing cellphones for ordinary Cubans, a luxury previously reserved for those who worked for foreign firms or held key posts with the communist-run state.

Of course that doesn’t mean that regular Cubans hadn’t already found ways to beat the system; many used to ask foreigners to sign the mobile contracts for them, but usage was still low compared with the Latin American average.

Under the new regulations, Cubans will be able to get cellphone service from Cuban telecommunications monopoly Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., or ETECSA, but only in the form of prepaid contracts that must be paid for in foreign currency known as Convertible Pesos (CUC). This is the currency pegged to the American dollar and used mainly by tourists and foreigners.

Regular Cubans still only get paid the equivalent of about a little less than $20 (408 Cuban pesos) a month, and get their salaries in Moneda Nacional, worth 24 times less than the CUC, making phones a very expensive commodity indeed.

The Cuban authorities also announced this morning, that Cubans will be able to both make and receive international calls under the new service. Any other details are apparently pretty light at the moment, but ETECSA says it’ll be providing information on how Cubans can switch over their existing service or sign up for a new contract in the next few days.

ETECSA is a mixed enterprise that operates with foreign capital from the Italian communications firm Italcom.

I wonder is a Cuban guajiro will be able to buy himself an Apple iPhone to speak to his amigos in Miami.

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