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Bush to let Americans send cell phones to Cuba

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  • President Bush: Cubans also "should be trusted to speak freely in public"
  • Bush calls for Cuba to implement major free-market reforms
  • U.S. has maintained an embargo against Cuba for decades
  • New leader Raúl Castro allowing Cubans to buy cell phones, DVD players
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States will allow Americans to send mobile phones to relatives in Cuba under a change in policy that President Bush announced Wednesday.

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President Bush announces the U.S. policy allowing cell phones to Cuba at the White House on Wednesday.

Bush said he is making the change since President Raúl Castro "is allowing Cubans to own mobile phones for the first time."

"If he is serious about his so-called reforms, he will allow these phones to reach the Cuban people," Bush said.

Bush urged the Cuban government to loosen restrictions further, saying if Cubans can be allowed to own mobile phones, "they should be trusted to speak freely in public."

They should be allowed to watch uncensored movies and have free access to the Internet, he said.

And he called for the government to implement major free-market reforms.

Relations between the United States and Cuba remain tense nearly 50 years after Fidel Castro overthrew the pro-American government in Havana. The United States has maintained an embargo against Cuba for decades.

Cuban officials on Monday accused the top U.S. diplomat in Havana of delivering money from private anti-Castro groups in Florida to dissidents in Cuba.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that "the U.S. government has programs to provide humanitarian assistance to people that are essentially forgotten by the Cuban government and that we ... do not stand in the way of private groups doing that as well."

As to how that is done, he said, "I'm not aware of the mechanics; I don't steep myself in these things."

Fidel Castro, beset with health problems, handed day-to-day governing power over to Raúl, his younger brother, earlier this year.

After being elected president in February, Raúl Castro announced that Cubans who can afford them could buy cell phones and DVD players and stay in hotels previously reserved for foreign tourists -- overturning bans from the Fidel era.

The goods and services remain out of reach for most people on the island, where $120 cell phones plus $10.80 calling cards cost about six times the average monthly salary.

Bush said Wednesday it is "the height of hypocrisy to claim credit to allow Cubans to purchase appliances that virtually none of them can afford."

Though the price may put mobile phones out of the reach of most Cubans, they are affordable for many of those who have access to U.S. dollars -- typically either sent from relatives abroad or earned internally by tourist workers.

Bush on Wednesday marked what the White House called a Day of Solidarity with the Cuban People, which the president said he hopes will be an annual event.

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