] HAVANA - Communist Cuba has authorized the unrestricted sale of computers and DVD and video players in the first sign that President Raul Castro ismoving to improve Cubans' access to consumer goods.
An internal government memo seen by Reuters on Thursday said the appliances long desired by Cubans can go on sale immediately, although air conditionerswill not be available until next year and toasters until 2010 due to limitedpower supplies.
Only foreigners and companies can buy computers in Cuba at present, while DVD players were seized at the airport until last year, when customs rules were eased.
Now Cubans will be able to buy them freely, paying for them in hard currency CUCs, or convertible pesos, worth 24 times more than the Cuban pesos state wages are paid in."Based on the improved availability of electricity, the government at the highest level has approved the sale of some equipment which was prohibited,"the memo said.It listed 19-inch (48-cm) and 24-inch (61-cm) television sets, electric pressure cookers and rice cookers, electric bicycles, car alarms and microwaves. . . .
AIR CONDITIONERS AND TOASTERS
The new memo circulated within the state-run retail system said Cubans willhave access to a second group of products in 2009, including airconditioners, which are much in demand to help endure the hot summer days inthe tropical country.
If Cuba's electricity supplies permit, additional appliances to be sold freely in 2010 include toasters and electric ovens, the memo said.
The sale of many electric appliances was banned in the 1990s when the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived Cuba of billions of dollars in subsidies and oil supplies, resulting in an energy crunch and daily blackouts of as long as 18 hours.
Cuba put an end to power cuts in 2006 by importing hundreds of electricity generators run on fuel supplied by Venezuela, its main foreign ally.
Raul Castro has encouraged debate of Cuba's economic woes and has received a torrent of complaints focusing mainly on poor wages and limited access to consumer goods that are priced in hard currency.
In December, he said Cuba had too many restrictions and last month, formally assuming leadership, he vowed "in the next few weeks we shall start removing the most simple of them.
"Many Cubans expect the state to soon allow them to buy cellular telephones. While they will now be able to buy computers, access to the Internet remains controlled by the government. ]