Sunday, May 4, 2008

Cubans buy first computers in latest change

Fri May 2, 2008 4:43pm EDT

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - The future arrived at Pedro Fresnedo's home on Friday, and it gave him goosebumps.

He held out his arm to show visitors the bumps rising from his skin after his 13-year-old daughter Amanda turned on the computer they had just purchased on the first day Cubans could buy them.

"This is the world for the young," the smiling Fresnedo said. "This the development of the world."

Cuba began selling computers to private citizens on Friday as part of reforms by new leader Raul Castro since he was elected president by the National Assembly in February, replacing his ailing elder brother Fidel Castro.

Last month, Cubans lined up outside stores to buy cell phones and DVD players that were finally available in the communist nation.

Raul Castro also has instituted agricultural reforms and opened up tourist hotels to Cubans, and in the process raised expectations that more change is coming.

At more than $700, the Chinese-made Q-Tech computers put on sale on Friday were out of reach financially for most Cubans, so there were no long lines at Havana stores.

But those who showed up were enthusiastic about being able to get a computer and what their availability meant for Cuba.

"I think it's good that the government has started this process legally. If we want a better country, we have to let people have the resources to develop professionally," said Elizabeth Reyes as she looked over the new merchandise.

Fresnedo applauded the changes under Raul Castro, but praised Fidel Castro as well, saying the man who ran Cuba for nearly five decades had brought "many good things" to the country, including universal health care and education.

"Everything is getting better," he said.

The family's new computer took up a lot of space in their two-room apartment near Revolution Square, but Fresnedo, wife Lucia, son Pedro and Amanda beamed with pride as the monitor came to life with Windows software.

Fresnedo said he and wife both work and together earn 700 pesos, or about $30 a month. They saved for four years in hopes of one day getting a computer and, at the end, needed a loan from his sister to make it possible.

Amanda, dressed fashionably in a short skirt and colorful tennis shoes, plans to use the computer for school work and to prepare for a possible career in computer science.

She will not be using the computer to surf the Internet, which is still not available for most Cubans.

"We don't have Internet. We don't have a telephone," Fresnedo said.

(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Kieran Murray)

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