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Tariffs on food and medicines lifted after unrest in Cuba

Following the recent unrest, Cuba has temporarily lifted import duties on food, medicine, and other essential goods.

Starting next Monday, there will be no more restrictions on goods imported by travelers until the end of the year.

Thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday to protest against food and medicine shortages, rising prices, and the Covid-19 government’s management.

One of their demands was that people arriving in Cuba be allowed to import supplies without paying customs duties.

Dozens of people have been arrested across the country since the unrest began on Sunday. Authorities confirmed on Tuesday that one person had been killed.

Unauthorized demonstrations are illegal in the country and anti-government protests are rare.

A “necessary” decision

Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz announced the change at a meeting broadcast on state television on Wednesday.

“It was a request from many travelers and it was necessary to make this decision,” the prime minister said. He added that the government would “evaluate the situation” after 31 December.

Currently, travelers to Cuba can bring up to 10 kilos of medicines into the country duty-free. However, they have to pay customs duties on the limited amount of food and personal care items they are allowed to bring in.

It is unclear what the impact of this change in customs would be. Few people are currently traveling to Cuba amid a coronavirus pandemic.

“No, we don’t want breadcrumbs. What we want is freedom. Yoani Sanchez, a government critic, and journalist tweeted shortly after the announcement:” The blood spilled in the streets of Cuba is not for the importation of a few extra suitcases.”

Internet restored

An AFP correspondent reported that Cuban authorities restored internet access on Wednesday after a three-day outage. However, some information and social networking platforms remain blocked on 3G and 4G, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter.

Mobile internet was only introduced in Cuba in recent years, which made it possible to organize and broadcast the recent demonstrations.

Andrea Lopez, a resident of the capital, told Reuters she had been unable to access the internet for several days and could not speak to her husband in Mexico.

“In the first few days they cut off my phone, they cut off everything,” she said. All this is what [the government] wanted.

The streets of Havana were reportedly quieter on Wednesday, despite the heavy security presence.

Arrests in the country appear to have continued in recent days. Cuban YouTuber Dina Stars was conducting an interview for a Spanish radio station on Tuesday when she told the station that security forces had come to pick her up. She later posted the message on Instagram.

Reuters obtained images from Tuesday apparently showing the arrest of a young man in the southeastern town of Gibara.

Economic crisis

The anti-government protests began on Sunday with demonstrations in the town of San Antonio de Los Baños, southwest of Havana, but quickly spread across the country.

Many broadcasts live on social media. Posts on social media showed people overturning police vehicles and looting several state-owned shops that had prices in foreign currency. For many Cubans, these shops are the only way to buy necessities, but at high prices.

The Cuban economy is in trouble. Tourism, one of the most important sectors, was severely affected by travel restrictions during the Covidien pandemic.

Sugar, mainly for export, is another important source of income for Cuba. However, this year’s harvest was much worse than expected.

As a result, the government’s foreign exchange reserves were depleting, meaning it was unable to buy imported goods to make up the shortfall as it normally does.

Cuba has blamed the US and its economic sanctions for the protests and Cuba’s general problems. On Wednesday, the US demanded the release of all peaceful protesters arrested during the recent unrest.

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