HAVANA – As part of the promised gradual reforms in Cuba, President Raul Castro authorized the use of cell phones by private citizens, Cuban state telephone company ETECSA announced last week.
And on Monday, the government announced that Cubans would no longer be banned from hotels once reserved for foreign tourists.
The cell phone move follows a March 24 announcement that individuals on the communist-ruled island will once again be able to purchase computers and related accessories.
The measures constitute the first tangible signs of liberalization since Raul Castro succeeded ailing older brother Fidel on Feb. 24.
Until now, only businesses, officially recognized institutions and foreign nationals have been permitted to have cell phones in Cuba, though some locals manage to obtain them through the cooperation of authorized users.
ETECSA said in a statement released to the state-run media that it is able “to offer the population cellular telephone service that will be formalized through a personal contract in the prepaid mode.”
The company did not set a date for the start of service, noting only that the Ministry of Computer Services and Communications would issue regulations to ensure the program was implemented “in an orderly and gradual way.”
Customers wanting cell phone service will have to pay for it in Cuban convertible pesos, or CUCs, ETECSA said. One CUC is equal to $1.08, while the ordinary peso – worth less than 4 cents – is the currency in which the vast majority of Cubans receive their salaries, which average about $17 a month.
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.
ETECSA said that charging in CUCs for cell phone service will allow the company to finance the development of cable connectivity,“ which has an important role in the computerization of society.”
The money made from the cell business will also “facilitate the introduction of new telephone services” priced in ordinary pesos, the company said.
ETECSA said it would soon inform consumers about how to go about buying cell phones, as well as instructions for Cuban citizens who obtained them “indirectly” and wish to regularize their possession of the phones.