Cuba opens sale of computers, electronic appliances, to public

( dpa ) - The Cuban government will officially lift restrictions on the retail sale to the general public of computers, television sets, video players and other electronic home appliances starting April 1, when a "gradual" introduction of "retail" sales is to begin.

An Internal Trade Ministry resolution dated March 21, viewed Tuesday by Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa, states that Cubans will be able to buy "computers and their accessories, video-playing equipment of all kinds, television sets in all screen sizes, electric pressure cookers, electric rice cookers, electric bicycles and car alarms."

The officials cited improvements in electricity supply as justification for the move, which represents the first visible change under the new leadership of President Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother, longtime revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in February.

Restrictions currently make computers and appliances available only to certain people in Cuba, but not ordinary citizens.

The decision revoked an edict of June 2003, which forbad the commercialization of these products.

"The country has had an improvement in the generation and distribution of electric power," the document said.

The availability will be "gradual," subject to availability of the recently-allowed goods.

The new Panamanian Ambassador in Cuba, Luis Gomez, said Monday that Cuban teams have been stocking up on home appliances in Panama.

"There are two shipping companies that are bringing products from Panama and travel to Panama twice a week. Before they used to bring eight or 10 containers, now they are bringing 25, 30 or 40 containers," Gomez told reporters in Havana.

Raul Castro encouraged expectations of change in his inaugural speech on February 24, when he said he would move to end an "excess in prohibitions and rules" within the "coming weeks."

These reforms include the sale of some tools for farmers, which has already started in some provinces after only a passing mention on state radio.

Vague comments in the official media have indicated the direction of other possible changes - including more flexible migration rules or forbidding access to the island's luxury resorts by Cubans.

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