Cuba renews appliance sales amid economic changes

July 30, 2011 - 1:59 PM
Cuba

Men line-fishing in Havana's bay in Cuba, Saturday July 30, 2011. In the background, on the east side of the bay, the Nico Lopez gasoline refinery burns bright. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano)

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba is renewing sales of energy-sucking appliances, reversing a pillar of Fidel Castro's "energy revolution" in response to popular demand and to support the growing ranks of independent workers under an economic overhaul launched by President Raul Castro.

The measure covers appliances such as air conditioners, electric stoves, coffee makers, grills and sandwich makers. The appliances will begin going on sale gradually as they become available, according to a notice published in the Official Gazette and dated Friday.

It said the action was aimed at "supplying products to the population and independent workers."

Appliance sales have been largely restricted since 2003, and they were key targets of former President Fidel Castro's "energy revolution."

That initiative sought to replace aging, inefficient kitchen appliances that taxed Cuba's shaky electrical grid and contributed to frequent summer blackouts that lasted for hours.

The former leader regularly appeared on television to push conservation measures and flog less-power-hungry rice steamers and pressure cookers. Government workers went door to door in many neighborhoods to replace incandescent light bulbs with more-efficient alternatives. Officials also overhauled the antiquated electrical grid.

Blackouts are not as frequent or severe today, though officials still urge conservation. While most of Cuba's electricity is generated by crude oil, there have been efforts to increase renewable sources like solar.

Raul Castro launched an economic overhaul last year that aims to rescue Cuba's perennially weak economy by including a taste of the private sector, though Castro stresses that the government is "updating" its socialist model, not embracing capitalism.

The state is planning to slash expenses, subsidies and payroll, while allowing more islanders to open their own businesses and hire employees. Many of the independent business licenses are for restaurants, cafeterias and home-based snack bars, where something like a sandwich maker or an electric coffee pot could come in handy.

Friday's note in the Gazette specifically mentions the needs of the small business owners, and says the appliances will be available on the domestic retail market.