Cubans get permission to holiday in their own hotels
RAUL CASTRO'S government has opened luxury hotels and resorts to all Cubans, ending a ban despised across the island as "tourist apartheid" and taking another step toward the creation of a consumer economy in the communist state.
Cuba has made a series of crowd-pleasing announcements in the past few days: Cubans with enough cash were given the right to buy computers, DVD players and plasma televisions yesterday, and soon they can even have their own mobile phones – all consumer goods only companies and foreigners were previously allowed to buy.
However, the end of the hotels ban is being hailed as a particularly sweet victory. "I believe, as a Cuban, I have the right to it all," said Elizabeth Quintana, a Havana resident. "It's really good."
While there was no official word from the government, hotel staff said they were told by the Ministry of Tourism that Cubans can now stay in hotels and resorts across the island, and pay to use gyms, hair salons and other previously off-limit facilities. Cubans can even rent cars for the first time.
Few Cubans can afford a night at a hotel on a government salary, but this could change if Mr Castro succeeds in increasing citizens' spending power.
The government is creating the kind of consumer incentives any economy needs to thrive. For many years, Cubans have not been able to buy certain electronic goods, lounge by a hotel pool or enjoy a drink at sunset from a room at the historic Hotel Nacional, no matter how much money they earned.
As with other hotel guests, Cubans will be charged in convertible currency, or CUCs, worth 24 times the regular pesos most Cubans earn.
The four-star Ambos Mundos, a favourite of Ernest Hemingway in Old Havana, charges $173 a night in high season – more than eight times the average monthly state salary of about $20.
The initiatives will give Cubans more reason to spend money at government-run businesses, boosting Cuba's cash reserves, said Arch Ritter, an expert on the Cuban economy at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
However, the new government also risks increasing class tensions by making income discrepancies more evident in a society founded on the ideals of social and economic equality.
"Authorisation to stay in hotels is fine because it was unfair discrimination of Cubans with respect to foreigners," said Tatiana, a doctor in the capital's upmarket Vedado district, who declined to give her full name. "But what Cubans can pay for a night in a hotel with a normal salary?"
Analysts, meanwhile, said it was difficult to predict where the policies were leading.
"They're trickling out policy moves one by one, and there's no road map," said Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute, a pro-democracy think-tank based outside Washington.
Mr Ritter added: "Raul is going with things that work in the short run. And where it's going, I don't think he could even say."
ENDING BROTHER'S 'EXCESSIVE RESTRICTIONS'
FIDEL Castro spent decades rallying against any reforms that could promote a new class of rich Cubans, writing as recently as July that Cuba's poor were frustrated that the island is awash in convertible pesos.
However, since taking over as president in February, Raul Castro has begun to end what he called "excessive restrictions" on daily life.
The hotel ban has been a historical contradiction within the Cuban revolution. When the Castro brothers' rebels took power in 1959, they overran beach resorts and hotels that were the playgrounds of wealthy tourists and declared them open to all Cubans.
Hotel restrictions were imposed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's chief economic benefactor, as Cuba embraced tourism to jump-start its economy.
Hotel guards have stopped anyone who looks Cuban and police have turned away Cubans trying to enter the best beaches at the white-sand resort of Varadero.
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