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Cuba has lifted a rule that forced people to pick up prescription drugs from a pharmacy assigned by the state
Public health sources said on Tuesday that Cubans can now buy prescription drugs at any pharmacy.

Until now, they had to fill prescriptions at a single pharmacy attached to hospitals or local clinics, a bureaucratic measure introduced during a severe crisis in the 1990s when resources were scarce due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"People used to have to go to our pharmacy and if there wasn't the right medicine or it would take a while to make, they would have to come back even if they lived far away," said Maribel, a Havana doctor. "Now they can go wherever without getting new prescriptions or having to travel long distances."

The restriction was unpopular and Raul Castro has set about eliminating some of the "excessive regulations" governing all aspects of Cuban society since he took office as president last month.

"There were lots of complaints. The authorities want people to be happy," said a Havana pharmacy manager, who did not want to be named because she was not authorized to speak to a reporter.

Raul Castro took over as president on Feb. 24, ending 49 years of rule by his elder brother Fidel Castro, who has failed to fully recover from intestinal surgery that sidelined him in July 2006.

"In the next few weeks, we shall start removing the most simple excessive regulations and prohibitions," Raul Castro said in his first speech as president.

Next week, computers, DVD players and other electronic equipment will go on sale for the general public for the first time since the energy crisis of the 1990s. Until now, only companies could purchase them.

Last week, the government began opening stores where farmers for the first time can buy some supplies without waiting for the state to assign them.

And local sources say Cubans may soon be allowed to buy cell phones and stay in tourist hotels where they have been barred for decades.


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