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Cuba, where cemetery vault is sold on Internet

Cubans have created an unusual virtual marketplace on the Web where users can find everything from speedboats and GPS systems for reaching US shores to burial sites.

world Updated: Aug 26, 2007 11:26 IST

Defying restrictions on commerce between individuals and limits on access to the Internet, Cubans have created an unusual virtual marketplace on the Web where users can find everything from speedboats and GPS systems for reaching US shores to cemetery vaults.

Just a few years ago, classified ad Web sites included few offers from Cuba, and most of those were rooms for rent at people's homes, according to the Spanish news agency EFE.

But now, despite the restrictions on Internet use - according to unofficial estimates fewer than one million of Cuban's 11 million people have e-mail accounts - Cubans are getting up to speed with the information age.

In contrast with the limited supply of goods available at stores on the island, anything, or just about anything, can be bought and sold on the Internet in the "strong currency" - meaning the Cuban convertible peso, or CUC, which is worth $1.08, compared with four cents for the ordinary peso.

On the Cuba page of the site "clasificados.st" visitors can purchase a lifeboat, a speedboat with a fibreglass hull and a 60-horsepower motor or a set of sails for some $325.

A GPS for the speedboat can be acquired on the Web for some $550 "in perfect condition, with navigation manual for those who want to go out for some serious fishing", the advertisement read.

Also available on the Web are ads about Internet access, such as the sale of an e-mail account with international access and 24-hour availability for 15 CUCs (about $16).

This is a very attractive offer in a country where the purchase of e-mail addresses and passwords is one of the means used by ordinary citizens to access the Internet, normally a service reserved for authorized intellectuals, doctors, government officials and professionals on the communist-ruled island.

Still, beyond these novelties, most of the advertisements are in reference to automobiles for sale or housing exchanges.

Cubans can find on the Web such items as a 1956 Chevrolet for $12,500, a 1953 Mercedes for $12,000 or a Fiat-125 for $5,000.

Ladas, the popular Soviet made-autos whose use spread throughout Cuba in the 1980s, deserve special mention.

Available on line are such parts as a Lada hood for $60, an air conditioner for a Daewoo Tico that has been adapted for the Soviet model and automatic windows, while for some $8,000 a 1974 Dodge taxicab with a Lada engine and Nissan seats can be purchased.

Housing ads also have their peculiarities, although one must be careful when negotiating and be aware of the complex Cuban legislation, which only recognizes property exchanges.

It is also advisable to understand the symbols of the Web shorthand, including the use of the number 4 to indicate rooms.

As an example, prospective buyers can find something like the following, "I'd like to exchange a 2/4 house in Marianao and a 1/4 in Playa for a 3/4 in Playa; I welcome offers."

There are also more concrete propositions: "I'll buy your flat roof to build my little house, only in Vedado. This is totally legal. Let's go for it!"

Of course, proposals can also be found from the ill informed, such as one from a Spaniard interested in buying an apartment in Havana with a view of the Malecon (Seawall). The man, who said he would be visiting Cuba in September, perhaps is unaware that foreigners - with rare exceptions - cannot legally own property in Cuba.

But perhaps the most bizarre offer to be found in this virtual marketplace is one for the sale of a vault at Havana's Colon cemetery.

It is described as "very fine," of white marble from 1924, in perfect condition, in the shade and centrally located. "A family investment for many generations. Price negotiable."