BBC News
14 March 2008

Cuba moves to lift appliance ban

Cuba's new President Raul Castro is to lift a ban on a wide range of consumer electrical appliances.

Cubans will be allowed for the first time to own DVD players and computers, according to an internal government memo leaked to Reuters news agency.

Curbs may also be lifted on video machines, electric pressure and rice cookers, microwaves and car alarms, as well as 19-inch and 24-inch TV sets.

A top government official confirmed to the BBC such plans were being adopted.

But it is thought air conditioners will not be available until 2009 and toasters until the year after due to limited power supplies.

'Improved availability'

"Based on the improved availability of electricity, the government at the highest level has approved the sale of some equipment which was prohibited," said the memo, Reuters reported.

Until now, only foreigners and companies have been able to buy computers in Cuba, while DVD players were seized at the airport until last year, when customs rules were eased.

The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says the sale of many electric appliances was banned in the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a severe energy crisis.

Cuba resolved power cuts in 2006 by importing hundreds of electricity generators run on fuel supplied by Venezuela, its new anti-American oil rich ally.

In his inaugural speech, after being formally chosen as president last month, Raul Castro promised to ease some of the restrictions on daily life in a matter of weeks.

The 76-year-old has led Cuba since July 2006 when his older brother, Fidel Castro, provisionally handed over power after intestinal surgery from which he has not fully recovered.

Although it appears his first move will be improved access to imported consumer goods, so far there is no word on easing curbs on internet access or legalising communications equipment, such as mobile phones.