Cubans Line Up to Buy Cellular Phones for First Time

By Reuters - Print this article Print

Welcome to the wireless age, Cuba. 

HAVANA (Reuters) - Hundreds of Cubans lined up at state-owned telephone offices on Monday as the new government under President Raul Castro began selling cellular phone service to the general public for the first time.

Thousands were expected to take advantage of the opportunity in the coming days, even though opening the service and buying the cheapest mobile phone was priced at the equivalent of more than nine months of state wages.

"It is a very good measure, but what we earn does not correspond with the price," said 33-year-old Gustavo, who nevertheless waited with around 100 others at an office in Havana's colonial district to buy the service.

Raul Castro has moved quickly to ease restrictions in the communist country since succeeding his ailing older brother Fidel Castro as president in February.

Cubans are now allowed to buy DVD players, computers and other electronic goods, and stay at tourist hotels previously reserved only for foreigners.

Cuba has the lowest rate of cellular telephone use in Latin America and the service was restricted until now to foreigners or government officials and employees.

Customers will pay for their calls with prepaid cards bought in hard currency, and can receive and make international calls.

Cuban telecommunications monopoly ETECSA, a joint venture with Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI: Quote, Profile, Research), announced last month it would begin selling the service.

(Additional reporting by Rosa Tana Valdez and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Kieran Murray)

This article was originally published on 2008-04-14
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