Cell phones/Cuba: One is All You Get
April 26, 2013
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
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
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.