May 22, 2013 in Nation/World

Cubans free to import appliances

Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A man transports a new Chinese-made refrigerator in the trunk of an old car in Havana last year. Cuba has authorized individual imports of appliances.
(Full-size photo)

HAVANA – Cuba has authorized individual imports of appliances such as air conditioners, refrigerators and microwave ovens, lifting a ban imposed in 2005 amid a wave of energy shortages and blackouts.

Islanders can now bring up to two such appliances per person into the country for noncommercial purposes, according to a law enacted with its publication Monday in the Official Gazette.

The list of approved items includes air conditioners with a capacity of less than 1 ton, ovens that consume less than 1,500 watts and microwaves under 2,000 watts.

The change could strain even further the already-overstuffed cargo holds of flights from places like Miami, Ecuador and Panama to Havana. Cuba-bound travelers who routinely check bulky bundles and multiple plasma-screen TVs will now start thinking about things like air conditioners, chest freezers, microwaves and ovens.

Even accounting for import taxes, it will often be cheaper to bring those items in from abroad than to pay for them in state-run hard-currency stores where the markup is said to be around triple.

The new rules on importing appliances would seem to most benefit the few-but-increasing number of Cubans who are traveling abroad.

Some predicted that as is already happening with television sets, computers and other high-ticket items, those travelers will often bring in the maximum allowed and sell at a hefty profit while still undercutting the state-run stores.

Personal importation of energy-sucking appliances was restricted eight years ago during an energy crisis that prompted then-President Fidel Castro to launch the so-called Energy Revolution seeking to lower consumption.

Blackouts are much rarer today, thanks in part to a steady flow of oil on preferential terms from close ally Venezuela.

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