Cuba lifts customs tax on food and medicine after rare anti-government protests

Visitors arriving in Cuba will be able to carry food, medicine and other essential items without having to pay a customs fee, the government has announced, its first apparent concession after days of rare protests in the Caribbean island nation.

Prime Minister Manuel Marrero made the announcement alongside President Miguel Diaz-Canel in a televised address on Wednesday, days after demonstrators first took to the streets on Sunday.

“It was a demand made by many travellers and it was necessary to take this decision,” Marrero said of the easing of customs restrictions on food, medicine and hygiene products.

Under Cuban law, travellers arriving in the country can bring up to 10kg of medicine tax-free. They can also bring in limited amounts of food and personal hygiene goods but must pay customs duties.

Those limits and duties will be lifted starting on Monday, Marrero said.

Anger has grown in the country over shortages of basic goods, electricity outages, curbs on civil liberties and the government’s handling of a surge in COVID-19 infections.

Cuban officials, who have accused protesters of vandalism and looting, have not released official numbers of the arrests, but have acknowledged one death.

Interior ministry officials on Wednesday said that some of the detained would be pursued for crimes such as incitement to violence, contempt, robbery and damage to public property, which carry lengthy prison sentences.

Meanwhile, intermittent internet outages that activists say were designed to tamp any further unrest eased slightly on Wednesday although access to social media and messaging services remained restricted.