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Page last updated at 04:34 GMT, Saturday, 3 May 2008 05:34 UK

Cuba lifts ban on home computers

By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

Cuban computer shop employees carry computer to customer's car
The computers cost almost $800, while the average wage is under $20

The first legalised home computers have gone on sale in Cuba, but a ban remains on internet access.

This is the latest in a series of restrictions on daily life which President Raul Castro has lifted in recent weeks.

Crowds formed at the Carlos III shopping centre in Havana, though most had come just to look.

The desktop computers cost almost $800 (400), in a country where the average wage is under $20 (10) a month.

But some Cubans do have access to extra income, much of it from money sent by relatives living abroad.

Since taking over the presidency in February, Raul Castro has ended a range of restrictions and allowed Cubans access to previously banned consumer goods.

In recent weeks thousands of Cubans have snapped up mobile phones and DVD players.

But only now have the first computer stocks arrived.

Internet access remains restricted to certain workplaces, schools and universities on the island.

The government says it is unable to connect to the giant undersea fibre-optic cables because of the US trade embargo. All online connections today are via satellite which has limited bandwidth and is expensive to use.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, Cuba's ally and a critic of the US, is laying a new cable under the Caribbean.

It remains unclear whether, once the connection is completed, the authorities will then allow unrestricted access to the world wide web.



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