Castro Government Lifts Ban on Hotels for Cuban Tourists

HAVANA -- Raul Castro's government opened luxury hotels and resorts to all Cubans on Monday, ending a ban despised across the island as "tourist apartheid" and taking another step toward creating a consumer economy in the communist state.

Cuba has made a series of crowd-pleasing announcements in the past few days: Cubans with enough cash will be able to buy computers, DVD players and plasma televisions starting Tuesday, and soon they can even have their own cell phones, all consumer goods only companies and foreigners were previously allowed to buy.

But this latest surprise -- allowing ordinary citizens into luxury hotels and resort beaches long reserved for rich foreigners -- is a particularly sweet victory.

"I was born here and live here. I believe, as a Cuban, I have the right to it all," said Elizabeth Quintana, a Havana resident. "It's good. Really good."

While there was no official word from the government, hotel employees said they were told by the Ministry of Tourism that Monday, Cubans can stay in hotels and resorts across the island, and pay to use gymnasiums, hair salons and other previously off-limit facilities. Cubans can even rent cars for the first time.

Few Cubans can now afford a night at a hotel on a government salary, but that could change if Castro succeeds in increasing his citizens' spending power.

Meanwhile, the government is creating the kinds of consumer incentives any economy needs to thrive. For many years, Cubans haven't been able to buy certain electronic goods, lounge by the rooftop pool at the Hotel Capri or enjoy a drink at sunset from a room at the historic Hotel Nacional, no matter how much money they've earned.

As with other guests, the hotels will charge Cubans in convertible currency, or CUCs, worth 24 times the regular pesos most Cubans earn.