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Cuba lifts customs restrictions on food and medicine after unprecedented protests

The change will be in effect until the end of the year.

An anti-government protesters march in Havana, Cuba on 11 July
An anti-government protesters march in Havana, Cuba on 11 July
Image: Ismael Francisco via PA Images

TRAVELERS ARRIVING IN Cuba can now bring in food, medicine and other essentials without paying customs, the government has said in a concession to angry and unprecedented street protests.

Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said in a televised address there would be no limit placed on these goods coming in and the change will be in effect until the end of the year.

Cubans took to the streets in droves on Sunday in an explosion of anger over economic hardship marked by shortages of food, electricity and other essentials.

One of the protesters’ demands was for people arriving in Cuba to be able to bring in food, medicine and personal hygiene items from abroad without paying customs duties.

One person has died and more than 100 were arrested, including independent journalists and opposition activists, since the anti-government protests broke out in the communist-ruled island over the worst economic crisis in decades.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who appeared in the televised address with Marrero, reiterated his accusations against the United States, which he blames for the demonstrations.

But in his speech, the Cuban president took a more conciliatory tone.

“We must also gain experience from the riots, we also have to make a critical analysis of our problems,” he said.

“Also perhaps it will be necessary to apologise to someone who, in the midst of the confusion that arises in events like this, may have been confused, has been mistreated,” he said, calling for “peace, harmony among Cubans and respect”.

He added that Cubans must “overcome our disagreements between all of us. What we have to promote, even though we have different points of view on certain issues, is between all of us to try to find solutions”.

Under Cuban law, travelers arriving here can bring up to 10 kilograms of medicine tax-free. They can also bring in limited amounts of food and personal hygiene gear but must pay customs duties.

Starting on Monday the limits are lifted and so are the duties, Marrero said on TV.

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“This is a measure we are adopting until 31 December. After that, we will assess things,” he said.

Cuba has blamed a half-century of US economic pressure for the economic crisis, but the downturn also comes amid strict measures against Covid-19 and a rise in virus cases.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Tuesday said the United States had incited social unrest through a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #SOSCuba.

© – AFP 2021

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