April 1, 2008 / 11:10 PM / in 10 years

Changes in Cuba are "cynical;" U.S. official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Recent changes made by Raul Castro, the new Cuban President, to improve access to consumer products are “cynical” since most Cubans won’t have enough money to buy them, a top U.S. official said on Tuesday.

“It’s somewhat cynical that some time in the future they will have the right to buy a cell phone, if they are able to come up with the money”, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told the Reuters Latin America Investment Summit in one of the first reactions by the Bush administration to the recent lifting of restrictions in Cuba.

Gutierrez, a Cuban-American, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are leading a commission trying to push for democratic changes on the communist-run island, and he thinks recent actions should not be seen as “reforms.”

“It’s sad that after 50 years of suffering and 50 years living in fear with shortages and 50 years living with repression, Cubans now have the right to buy a rice cooker,” he added.

Stores started selling some of the electric goods that were previously banned in the socialist state, such as DVD players, with microwave ovens and computers expected in a day or so.

The measures came after Raul Castro succeeded his ailing brother Fidel Castro as president on February 24, promising to end “excessive prohibitions” on daily life in Cuba. His government has allowed Cubans to stay at hotels formerly reserved for foreigners.

Gutierrez criticized the measure, saying most Cubans could not afford to pay for rooms.

“Why the government has to decided that the whole population now has the right to buy cell phones, and why is this being celebrated in some parts of the world?,” he asked.

Gutierrez said other countries should expect the same standards in Cuba that they hold for themselves.

The U.S. embargo on Cuba has been tightened under the Bush administration, which has imposed more restrictions for trade, family travel and remittances in an effort to undermine the Cuban economy.

Gutierrez said he was not aware of reports that Dell Inc computers were being put on sale in Havana, but he said U.S. companies and citizens should respect the law that prohibits American trade with the island.

(For summit blog: summitnotebook.reuters.com/)

Reporting by Adriana Garcia; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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