Cuban President Fidel Castro gave Cuban women some good news on International Women's Day: rice cookers are coming to every household.
In a five-hour 45-minute speech to cheering women on Tuesday night, the Cuban leader announced 100,000 pressure cookers and rice cookers would be available each month at subsidized prices.
"Those of you who like rice cookers, raise your hands," Castro said to applause from hundreds of women. The 78-year-old leader spent two hours talking about the merits of pressure cookers.
Castro's gesture may have carried some irony, coming on a day commemorating women's battles for equality. But many Cuban women, who do the vast majority of domestic work despite advances toward equality under Castro, were only too happy to hear the Chinese-made rice cookers were on their way.
The electric rice cooker is a treasured appliance in Cuba, where the basic diet is black beans and rice. The cookers were among appliances banned to save energy a decade ago when Cuba was plunged into economic crisis and power outages due to the loss of Soviet aid and oil.
The cookers could be distributed now, Castro said, because Cuba was emerging from the crisis and had resolved its latest energy crunch, caused by a failure of the island's largest power plant last summer.
With average salaries of $12 a month, most Cubans cannot afford rice cookers that now sell for $60 on the black market.
"They will be received with open arms. When the gas goes, you can make beans, boil vegetables or heat up milk for the baby," said a Cuban housewife.
She said electric rice cookers are vital in rural Cuba, where households cook on wood or coal fires when gas is not available.