Cuba Bans PC Sales to Public.
By Julia Scheeres
The Cuban government has quietly banned the sale of computers and
accessories to the public, except in cases where the items are
"indispensable" and the purchase is authorized by the Ministry of
News of the ban was first reported by CubaNet, an anti-Castro site based
Miami. According to the organization's correspondent in Havana, the
merchandise -- which had been sold freely in the capital since
was yanked off store shelves in January.
The computer departments of the retail stores were divided into two
well-stocked area for government buyers, and a smaller area where the
could buy diskettes, CDs and other such items. A store employee told the
correspondent she was forbidden from discussing the move, which was also
referred to briefly in a newsletter published by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and
Early attempts to confirm the information independently were
Dozens of messages to Cuban retailers and government officials in Cuba
unanswered. Cuba's spokesman in Washington, Luis Fernandez, was
"If we didn't have an embargo, there could be computers for everybody,"
Fernandez replied when asked this question: Are computer sales to the
banned in Cuba?
Several weeks later, a government employee in Cuba sent Wired News,
a Web-based e-mail account, a copy of a resolution mandating the ban. In
interview using an instant-messaging service, the source -- who asked to
remain anonymous -- criticized the decree and said it had generated a
deal of controversy within government circles after it was unilaterally
mandated by the Minister of Internal Commerce, Bárbara Castillo.
According to Article 19, Chapter II, Section 3 of the ministry's
No. 383/2001: "The sale of computers, offset printer equipment,
photocopiers, and any other mass printing medium, as well as their
pieces and accessories, is prohibited to associations, foundations,
and nonprofit societies, and natural born citizens. In cases where the
acquisition of this equipment or parts, pieces and accessories is
indispensable, the authorization of the Ministry of Internal Commerce
The source's decision to send the information was especially daring in
of a gag law that mandates a 3- to 10-year prison term for anyone who
collaborates with "enemy news media."
Because government officials refused to comment on the ban, the reason
the move is a matter of speculation.
The rise of independent journalists in Cuba, who published articles on
Internet criticizing the Castro regime, may have something to do with
The correspondents, who risk jail time for their "subversive" reports,
their stories by fax, e-mail or phone dictation to supporters in Miami.
"We believe our website had something to do with it," said Manrique
Sr., who helps run the website for the Cuban Institute of Independent
Economists, which launched a few weeks before the ban was passed in late
The economists' site offers a sharp contrast to the rosy Marxist dream
proffered by Castro, including news of opposition arrests and detailed
reports on the decrepit state of the island economy. The site is blocked
Iriarte said a colleague visited several Havana stores in January where
employees said computer equipment was only available for "accredited
The move didn't surprise Cuba-watchers in the United States.
"This just reflects a further restriction on communications with the
world," said Eugene Pons, of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American
Studies at the University of Miami.
The government already requires Cubans who can afford Internet accounts
which cost $260 a month, while the average Cuban salary is $240 a year
register with National Center for Automated Data Exchange (CENAI), Pons
said. For those who do manage to log on, the Internet experience is
The government-controlled ISPs block links to certain foreign media,
anti-Castro sites and pornography.
The government has also admitted to monitoring e-mail. To circumvent
spying, residents use Web-based e-mail accounts and chat services to
their communication harder to trace. Indeed, the Cuban source used a
Web-based account to reply to a message sent to the person's government
"If I disappear from cyberspace one day, it's because they found out I
talking to you," the source said.
Courtesy: Michael Periu, Jr.