Cuba mobile phones rarely used for calls


Roberto Machado tapped his pocket with a smile and with some ceremony fished out the phone: a Sony Ericsson, vintage 2003. For its new owner this was no clunky relic. It was beautiful.

Machado, a 31-year-old artist, recently received it from an aunt in Spain and was enchanted. "I love it. I tell you, with this life isn't the same."

The age of the mobile phone has reached Cuba. Since being legalised by the communist government the phones, once a forbidden badge of foreign consumerism, have become a ubiquitous sight across the island.

Clipped to belts, worn around necks, endlessly fiddled with, you see them everywhere. There is, however, a Cuban twist: very few use the phone to talk.

Machado looked aghast at the idea. "Speak? As in a conversation? Never. Not once. You would have to be crazy or desperate." Calls are too expensive so the phones are used as pagers. Instead of answering, Cubans note the incoming number and call back from a landline.

Such are the calculations wrought by an impoverished, centrally planned economy where the average monthly wage is $20 (£13). Calls between mobile phones cost 65 cents a minute, and slightly more from a mobile to a landline. Even texting, at 17 cents a message, is considered pricey. A minute-long call to Europe costs $5.85.

It takes enormous sacrifice – or a foreign benefactor – for Cubans to afford the $60 handset sold in government stores and a further $50 to activate the line with Etecsa, the state telephone company. Even so, there is always a queue outside Etecsa's store on Obispo street in Havana. Many are youths in sunglasses and designer jeans – part of a generation as obsessed by brands as their western peers. "We're catching up," said Miguel, a 19-year-old.


Someone needs to arrange to send used handsets to Cuba. Eventually they might be used to communicate the revolution that is needed in this God forsaken country. I have tossed a few of them already.


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