HAVANA – Saturday marked the 10-year anniversary of the lifting of government restrictions that prevented Cubans from staying in hotels, having their own cellphones or buying computers, which was part of a series of reforms carried out by President Raul Castro.
The president, who will hand over power on April 19 after serving two five-year terms, “scored popularity points” with Cubans, who “didn’t know why they were being discriminated against in their own country,” Reinaldo, a 57-year-old Havana resident, told EFE.
The youngest of the Castros was confronting the “excess of prohibitions” that even the Cuban government considered to be “absurd” and, in this way, was “updating” the socialist model, eventually allowing Cubans to travel abroad, buy and sell homes and open private businesses.
Raul Castro’s first reform, launched on March 31, 2008, a little over a month after becoming president, allowed Cubans to stay in hotels and rent cars, which was previously reserved for foreign tourists.
The new president also lifted prohibitions on the purchase of computers, televisions, DVD players and other electrical appliances.
Two weeks later, on April 14, the state telecom company Etecsa began selling cellphone lines to Cubans, a privilege that was previously reserved for foreigners.
Despite the popularity of the reforms, the day-to-day did not change much for most Cubans, who in 2008 earned an average monthly salary of 408 Cuban pesos ($17).
The only Cubans who could afford such luxuries were those who received remittances from family members living abroad and those who worked in foreign embassies of for foreign companies.
A decade after these reforms were implemented, Cubans’ purchasing power has increased thanks to an emergent private sector, new business opportunities and the possibility of traveling abroad.
The price of many of those goods and services has also gone down and Cubans can now buy and sell almost any item on websites such as Revolico.com and Porlalivre.com
In 2017 alone, Etecsa activated 600,000 new cellphone lines, with 4.6 million lines now operating, while the company hopes to increase this figure to 5 million this year.
“For me it is normal. I have had my own cellphone line since I was 16 and I have gone to several hotels with my parents. I can’t imagine that this was previously prohibited,” said Esteban, a 19-year-old Havana resident.