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Cubans Allowed DVDs, Rice Cookers, Farms!

From those lovers of communist dictators everywhere, the Associated Press:

Shoppers look at DVD players at a store in Havana, Tuesday, April 1, 2008.

Castro reforms: DVDs, farms for Cubans

By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer

HAVANA – Cubans snapped up DVD players, motorbikes and pressure cookers for the first time Tuesday as Raul Castro’s new government loosened controls on consumer goods and invited private farmers to plant tobacco, coffee and other crops on unused state land.

Combined with other reforms announced in recent days, the measures suggest real changes are being driven by the new president, who vowed when he took over from his brother Fidel to remove some of the more irksome limitations on the daily lives of Cubans…

Many of the shoppers filling stores Tuesday lamented the fact that the goods are unaffordable on the government salaries they earn. But that didn’t stop them from lining up to see electronic gadgets previously available only to foreigners and companies

On Monday, the Tourism Ministry announced that any Cuban with enough money can now stay in luxury hotels and rent cars, doing away with restrictions that made ordinary people feel like second-class citizens. And last week, Cuba said citizens will be able to get cell phones legally in their own names, a luxury long reserved for the lucky few.

The land initiative, however, potentially could put more food on the table of all Cubans and bring in hard currency from exports of tobacco, coffee and other products, providing the cash inflows needed to spur a new consumer economy.

Government television said 51 percent of arable land is underused or fallow, and officials are transferring some of it to individual farmers and associations representing small, private producers. According to official figures, cooperatives already control 35 percent of arable land — and produce 60 percent of the island’s agricultural output.

"Everyone who wants to produce tobacco will be given land to produce tobacco, and it will be the same with coffee," said Orlando Lugo, president of Cuba’s national farmers association.

The change is a sharp contrast to the early days of Cuba’s revolution, when the government forced or encouraged private farmers to turn their land over to the state or form government-controlled collective farms. But without more details, it was difficult to tell the significance of program, which began last year but was announced only this week…

Cuba’s communist system was founded on promoting social and economic equality, but that doesn’t mean Cubans can’t have DVD players, said Mercedes Orta, who rushed to gawk at the new products.

"Socialism has nothing to do with living comfortably," she said…

Government stores offered all products in convertible pesos — hard currency worth 24 times the regular pesos state employees get paid. The government controls well over 90 percent of the economy and the average state salary is just 408 regular pesos a month, about $19.50.

Still, most Cubans have access to at least some convertible pesos thanks to jobs with foreign firms or in tourism, or cash sent by relatives living in the United States.

Graciela Jaime, a 68-year-old retired clothes factory employee, complained that widespread corruption and greed has created a class of rich Cubans.

"Everyone wants to spend money and that is what’s happening," she said. "If everything they earned went to the state like it should, there wouldn’t be as much corruption as there is."

The truly criminal thing is that Cubans have been prevented from owning basics like pressure-cookers for sixty years, and we only hear about it from our watchdog media when the sanctions are finally removed.

But our "journalists" never want to make their idols look bad.

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, April 1st, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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