| HAVANA, Sept 1
HAVANA, Sept 1 Cuba has raised duties and
restricted imports on consumer goods brought in by air travelers
or sent by mail, imposing greater hardship for a fledgling
private sector and angering people looking to counter chronic
The new restrictions, which began on Monday, take aim at
black market dealers of goods that are hard to find on store
shelves or come with steep excise taxes, while protecting the
state monopoly on selling imported goods.
They also burden Cubans who run small businesses like
restaurants and beauty parlors and depend on travelers carrying
suitcases full of goods into the country.
"Nobody likes this and the people are angry," said Silvio
Madero, a Cuban-American from Homestead, Florida, who has
visited his Cuban family six times over the past four years,
each time bringing merchandise.
"This country needs money coming in, and with these rules
it's not going to happen. They should let all the goods in so we
can help our family and friends," Madero said.
At Miami International Airport, Cubans and Cuban-Americans
routinely line up for charter flights packing large-screen
televisions, bicycle tires and myriad items in short supply on
the Communist-led island.
The government's move to slow down the trade jacks up duties
on the weight of mailed packages and popular items such as TVs,
which now cost an additional $100 for most models. The duty is
now $250 on a 32-inch (81 cm) screen, $400 for those between 32
and 42 inches (106 cm) and $500 on even bigger models.
Some Cubans or Cuban-Americans make a living as "mules"
ferrying in goods as airline passengers. Others agree to take
extra luggage in exchange for airfare. These frequent fliers
will now be targeted by customs and their goods confiscated.
Under economic reforms enacted by President Raul Castro,
Cubans can operate small private restaurants, beauty parlors,
bed-and-breakfast inns, transportation services and many other
But there is no wholesale market, forcing entrepreneurs to
import via air travelers or shop in state retail stores, where
they pay a minimum 240 percent sales tax.
Cuba's attempts to modernize its economy have been uneven,
marked by stops and starts.
Some previous measures also proved highly unpopular, such as
banning home 3D theaters and the private sale of imported
clothes and other goods last year. Cubans welcomed an initiative
to liberalize the restricted sale of new cars this year but that
turned to outrage when hefty taxes meant family sedans were
priced like European sports cars.
The latest rules are another attempt to suppress the private
clothing market. Previously, people could bring in 40 pairs of
pants but now the limit is 20. Similar limits have been imposed
for stockings, socks, blouses, shoes and other items.
"The new law is no good," said Jose Diaz Concepcion, a Cuban
from the western province of Pinar del Rio who visits Miami
every three months. "Going to Miami to bring back some trinkets
is now ridiculous. How can this be, man!"
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Kieran
Murray and W Simon)