Cell phones/Cuba: One is All You Get

Osmel Almaguer

Photo: Cariad

HAVANA TIMES — My friend Leslie was recently informed by ETECSA (Cuba’s State phone company) that he cannot open a new mobile phone account. He was told that you are entitled to only one line and that one has already been activated under his name. Incidentally, my friend sold that cell line to a stranger a long time ago.

He told me he thinks this norm is senseless, and I cannot but nod my head in agreement. He said he’d be interested in knowing whether the same restriction applies to businesspeople and legal entities based in or visiting our country.

That would be very counterproductive, I reply.  “Besides, shouldn’t this company be interested in selling more of its products?” My friend responds with a phrase that has become commonplace in conversations among Cubans: “If you want to retain your sanity in this country, it’s best to put all commonsense aside.”

ETECSA was a joint venture company until February 4, 2011, when it came under full control of the Cuban State.

Today, it is Cuba’s telephone communications monopoly. As in many other commercial sectors in the country, it is a “giant” that knows no competition.

I don’t know whether this rather harsh policy dates back to the days when ETECSA was a joint venture company (something which would surprise me). In any event, it speaks of an anti-commercial mindset that is in keeping with the mentality that has prevailed in Cuban society for many years.

I therefore ask myself: how can we ever aspire to achieve any development in the country when local companies refuse to develop? Cuba is probably the only country in the world where people have to pay a monthly fee so as not to lose their cell phone lines. And, when it comes to mobile phone, that’s not the weirdest thing you’ll come across in Cuba.

There’s a cell phone currently being sold at ETECSA outlets for 23 Cuban Convertible Pesos (25 USD). The model must have come out ten years ago or before then, it looks very old. The funny thing is that, one or two years ago, it cost around 70 CUCs.

Needless to say, the price of the phone and mobile plan (let alone regular usage fees) far exceeds what the average Cuban can afford to pay (it is more than five months’ earnings)…but this doesn’t stop ETECSA from placing restrictions on what we can purchase.

My friend added: “This is how I feel when I go get the daily ration of bread. There, they also say ‘one is all you get’.”

I felt bad for my friend and lent him my ID, so he can use my name to open the new account. And why not? My own phone line was activated using my sister’s name.


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

8 thoughts on “Cell phones/Cuba: One is All You Get

  • You cant acquire goods and services unless 1) you are a tourist, 2) you are high ranking in the Cuban government (above Captain) 3) Have dollars to be taxed at 20% by the Cuban government. Yes $1.00= .80 CUC if you are lucky.

    P.S. if you want need some weight loss help, you can always pick up cholera, malaria, dysentery, Giardia for free just drink the water, ice or brush your teeth with tap water.

  • Anybody have suggestions on the cheapest way for a Cuban born US Citizen to get a cell phone and leave it behind with an elderly sick relative?

  • Touche!
    We in the US have lost most of the rights above. PS the right to vote does not exist. You have the right to accept Gerrymandering of your potential vote. You have the right to prove you are us born or a citizen. So if you are adopted good luck on finding a birth certificate (look at what happened with Obama LOL). If you were born during Jim crow and are black chances are there is no birth certificate. Remember there was widespread segregation up to and including the 1960’s I grew up in. Oh forget about it there’s still discrimination in the US, just look at what they are doing with college kids and their vote. They have to return to their home state to vote. So much for the ground floor of democracy.

    Shut it down for more than 6 months get rid of the tea party, gop, and libertarians. We need real leaders in the house and senate. Look at what happened to Rome.

    I am Cuban born, been in the US since I was 4YO, now am 56YO.

  • I recognize the priorities of basic human freedoms:

    The right to free speech.
    The right to free assembly.
    The right to freedom of religion.
    The right to freedom of labour.
    The right to privacy.
    The right to due process and equality before the law.
    The right to freedom of travel.
    The right to freedom of conscious.
    The right to free and democratic elections.

    The Cuban system bans all these freedoms and oppresses the Cuban people while they attempt to buy them off with the promise of expensive yet crappy cell phones.

  • I am often reminded that the deprivation of “freedoms” as anti-Castro American politicians refer to them, consist in Cuba mostly of what goods and services can be acquired. Somehow, the lack of freedom of choice between different products has become conflated with a violation of human rights. I suppose under the “life, liberty and property” assumption set forth by Locke more than three centuries ago, that is a valid point of view.

  • Strange, because a friend of mine has 2, which are payed by me through an agency in Canada. But maybe things have changed.

  • I may be a little, I mean, WAY over biased because I don’t own one and hate those things – of course, that are useful for taxi-drivers and other people who work on the streets but became a ‘necessity’ for everyone (I miss the days of telephone tokens) because of the ‘God Market’: do you need more than one account? Unless you have split personality, I don’t see why.

  • I was once told by an official with Cubacel that the ‘one man-one phone’ rule is because of the limited bandwidth available to Cuban cellphone users because of the satellite up-link. The once of month fee is a derivative of this limitation as many Cubans, unable to purchase the 5 and 10 cuc air-time cards would simply resolve to use their phones as cameras, mp3 players and game devices at the same time tying up phone line capacity. By charging the monthly fee (which I thought was every 2 months), Cubacel frees up available bandwidth by eliminating non-users who allowed their phone service to run out. Hopefully the Venezulelan fiber optic cable will allow Cuba to join the 21st century by removing the need for this limit on the number of SIM cards a person can register in their name and by allowing monthly service similar to land lines where the user pays for service at the end of the month based on usage. Then again, maybe pigs will fly.

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