Cubans who learned last week that they will be allowed to own cell phones got a bonus Wednesday, with news that the mobile connections will allow them to reach overseas friends and relatives in the U.S. and beyond.
Havana announced last week that it was lifting a prohibition on ordinary Cubans owning mobile phones - one of several recent signs that daily life will be somewhat more relaxed under the regime of its new president, Raul Castro, who in February succeeded his brother, revolutionary icon Fidel Castro.
A list of phone rates released by state telecoms company Etecsa Wednesday indicated that Cuba’s new cell phone holders will be able to place calls to the U.S. for $2.91 per minute - the first direct phone connection from the island to the northern neighbor.
Calls to Mexico and Canada can be placed for $2.64 per minute. The rates will be $4.80 for calls to Latin America, while dialing anywhere else in the world will cost $6.31.
Mobile phones are fairly prevalent in Cuba, but until now have been a luxury mainly reserved for foreigners and government staff. Cubans had to acquire them through a third party and could not obtain a service contract in their own name.
For those who can afford it, the new cell phone access is a welcome breakthrough, since Cubans wishing to reach relatives overseas until now had to phone collect or had to phone from public phone booths.
But an average salary here of 408 Cuba pesos ($17) puts the new phones in the pockets and purses of only the most fortunate.
Meanwhile, some 30 telecoms offices across the island are bracing, despite the high rates, for a crush of new phone clients, when the service starts up on April 14.