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Last Updated: Monday, 24 May, 2004, 21:01 GMT 22:01 UK
Cuba re-opens hard-currency shops
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC correspondent in Havana

Cubans check the prices at a toy shop in Havana
Cubans check out the new prices before rushing to buy
Shops selling goods in dollars have re-opened in Cuba, two weeks after most were abruptly closed by the island's Communist government.

In the intervening period, prices on most goods have gone up by up to 25%.

Havana says the closure and the price rises are a necessary reaction to US moves to tighten its embargo on Cuba.

Washington's measures - earlier in May - included a reduction in the amount of money Cuban Americans are allowed to take to their families on the island.

'Symbols of inequality'

Cuban shoppers are quietly returning to the department stores and clothes shops that have been off-limits for two weeks.

There's no evidence of any rush to buy things, instead many people seem to be milling around, keen to find out just how much prices have gone up.

Shoes have been marked up about 10%; a bottle of beer is about 15% more expensive.

The government squarely blames the price rises on US President George W Bush.

On the front of the island's state-run newspaper, an article entitled "Information for the People" says that it's the measures taken by the US government against the Cuban economy that's forcing the restructuring of prices.

Since Cuba legalised the dollar in 1993, "dollar stores" have appeared all over the country.

They sell many of the items, such as cooking oil, which are almost impossible to find in government-subsidised peso stores.

Their existence helps ensure that most of the hard currency circulating in the country eventually ends up in the government's hands, but they also symbolise inequality in this Socialist state.

The goods they sell are more likely to be bought by a Cuban who works in the tourist industry or has relatives abroad, than a doctor surviving on a paltry state salary.

It's not clear whether putting prices up further will make that inequality more or less apparent.

Castro leads protest at US curbs
14 May 04  |  Americas
Cuba closes hard-currency shops
12 May 04  |  Americas
Cuban dissidents attack Bush plan
10 May 04  |  Americas
Bush approves new squeeze on Cuba
07 May 04  |  Americas
Cuba's hardships fuel discontent
08 Jun 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Cuba
04 Jun 03  |  Country profiles

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