Cuba cuts international rates to $1 per minute

AVANA (AP) — Cuba says it’s reducing international calling rates for residents with land lines to $1 a minute.

Cuba’s telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa, says the discount applies to all international calls through Dec. 15. Details of the promotion appeared on its Web site and were confirmed Monday by a company representative who did not provide his name.

Residential calls from Cuba had cost $2.45 a minute to the United States and Canada, $3.45 to Central America and $5.85 to Europe. Most Cubans don’t have Internet access and cannot afford cell phones or computers.

Despite the cuts, international dialing remains a costly proposition for most Cubans whose average state wages are $20 a month.

News of the offer hadn’t been published by state media as of Monday. Etecsa said details about the plan will appear on residents’ telephone bills. Residents wanting to call abroad must first request activation of international calling service, the company said.

No reason was given for the discount. But Cuba is dealing with a severe economic crisis that has affected islanders and prompted the government to announce spending cuts for education and health care, two pillars of its communist system.

Three hurricanes last year caused more than $10 billion in damage. The global recession has cut export earnings and caused budget deficits to soar, leaving Cuba short of cash. The government’s most recent forecast puts 2009 economic growth at 1.7 percent, compared to a 6 percent forecast made in December.

Etecsa said it will announce new international rates for cell phone users but provided no details. The government made private service available to all islanders in 2008. Cell phones previously were restricted to foreigners and Cubans with key state jobs.

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Particular Cuba organizes travel to Cuba. Hotel booking, car rental, package tours, excursions, flights to Cuba.

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