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Cubans on new freedoms: 'We'll see how far we go'

  • Story Highlights
  • Cubans are welcoming new freedoms granted them by government
  • "We'll see how far we go from here," one Cuban says
  • Cell phones and computers are now available but are too costly for most
  • The average monthly salary in Cuba is just under $20
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By Morgan Neill
CNN Havana Bureau Chief
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HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- For the first time since Fidel Castro's official resignation, Cubans are talking more about what the government is doing than what it's not doing.

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Cubans, like this woman at home in Havana, until now had been denied cell phones. Now they are allowed.

In the past week, President Raśl Castro has legalized cell phone use for ordinary Cubans; granted Cubans access to previously off-limits tourist hotels; and legalized the sale within Cuba of microwaves, DVD players and personal computers. Cubans are welcoming the change, even if the costs are out of their reach.

Georgina Garcia, a retired sound technician, was among those lined up at Dita, a store in Havana's Vedado neighborhood.

"I can't afford to go to the hotels," she said. "But I think it's good anyway. I have the right to go, and I feel the same as the tourists who come here."

Heriberto Gonzalez, a civil worker, said of the new freedoms, "Now that the prohibition has been lifted, we'll see how far we go from here." Video Watch Cubans react to the loosened rules »

Jorge, who has a small business, didn't want to give his last name. He said, "I think the Cuban people deserved this a while ago. So Cubans look more like the rest of the world, like normal people."

"Now we have to work on the workers' salaries, which aren't enough to meet the prices of a DVD player or a computer."

Cuba's government had previously forbidden the sale of consumer products under the argument that they consumed too much electricity.

And although computers hadn't yet been seen on the shelves Wednesday, Yamile Batista, the commercial director of La Puntilla department store, said they were among various products that would appear this week.

"We're talking about complete computer systems, 21-inch televisions, DVD players, home theater systems," she said.

Georgina Garcia voiced a sentiment echoed by many in the stores this week.

"I think it's good that I can have a computer and not overpay for it, have to hide it when they come to fumigate my house, worried that they'll see the computer and I'll be sent of to prison for the computer that I overpaid for from somebody who stole it," she said.

Most Cubans can't afford to rent cell phones, stay in hotels or buy any of the new products available to them. The average monthly salary is just under $20.

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Those in the stores this week were primarily those with access to hard currency, either from relatives abroad or through jobs in the tourist industry.

Cuba has a two-tiered currency system; Cuban state workers are paid in the Cuban peso, but many products are only sold in the convertible peso, worth 24 times as much. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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