CUBA: Following the rare anti-government protests in Cuba, the country has temporarily lifted import duties on food, medicine and other essentials.
Sunday witnessed thousands of Cubans on the streets to protest over food and medicine shortages, price increases and the government’s handling of Covid-19. Amid the clash between the protestors and police, one man died and more than 140 have been arrested or reported as missing, including independent journalists and opposition activists.
One demand the protestors had – for people arriving in Cuba to bring in food, medicine and personal hygiene items from abroad without paying customs duties.
“We don’t want crumbs, we want freedom”
Under Cuban law, travellers can bring into the country up to 10kg of medicine tax-free. Limited amounts of food and personal hygiene are also allowed, however, they must pay customs duties to bring in.
Starting next Monday, there will be no limit on such goods brought in by travellers until the end of the year.
Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz announced this decision on Wednesday at a meeting broadcast on state television: “It was a demand made by many travellers and it was necessary to take this decision. The government will assess things after 31 December”, he said.
However, it is unclear the effect such a customs change will have.
“No, we don’t want crumbs. We want freedom,” journalist and government critic Yoani Sanchez tweeted shortly after the announcement. “Blood wasn’t spilled on Cuban streets in order to import a few extra suitcases.”
AFP news agency journalists reported that after three days of disruption of internet services, Cuban authorities had restored access to the internet on Wednesday. However, some messaging and social media platforms reportedly remained blocked on 3G and 4G, including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
The communist government introduced mobile internet in Cuba only in the last few years and allowed people to organise and spread the word of the recent demonstrations.
Cuba’s economy is struggling. One of the most important sectors, tourism has been a downfall with travel restrictions owing to the Covid pandemic.
Sugar is another major export earner for Cuba. But this year’s harvest has fallen much worse than expected.
The result of which, Cuba’s reserves of foreign currency are exhausted, meaning it cannot buy imported goods to supplement shortages, as it would normally do.
Cuba has blamed a half-century of US economic pressure for the economic crisis.