Cuba has imposed higher tariffs on packages coming from abroad as part of a series of customs measures that have raised controversy on the Communist-ruled island.

The Finance and Prices Ministry ruled Monday that import duties on packages will be charged in the covertible peso, or CUC, created in 1994 for hard currency transactions, and unified the method of evaluating shipments entering by air, sea, mail or courier service.

Under the new system, the duty is 10 CUC ($10) per kilogram (2.2 pounds), as opposed to the previous scale of 20 regular pesos (80 cents) per kilo.

Most Cubans are paid in regular pesos.

Cuba, a country where excess baggage is the usual way to bring gifts and products into the country that are scarce or very expensive here, allows up to 3 kilos (6 1/2 pounds) of packages to enter free of customs duties.

The maximum goes up to 30 kilos (65 pounds) for Cuban citizens returning from abroad.

Cuban travelers can only pay customs duties in regular pesos the first time they return to the country, but when coming back from subsequent trips in the same calendar year they must pay in CUC, which signifies a considerable surcharge.

The government Web site Cubadebate says that with the new rules the authorities aim to "guarantee stability, ease and security for passengers going through airports."

But many on the island feel that the goal is really to eliminate the growing phenomenon of "mules," people who bring in a variety of products in order to sell them later.

On Revolico, Cuba's most popular Web site for classified ads, there are dozens of postings by Cubans selling everything from cell phones to nail polish wholesale that they acquired outside the country. It is even possible to order specific articles from abroad.

The incipient private sector, the result of President Raul Castro's "modernizing" the nation's socialist economic model, is one of the hardest hit by the new ruling, since the self-employed and small-business owners use the mules as suppliers in hopes of creating wholesale markets.

A clothing and jewelry trader who preferred to remain anonymous told Efe that in the past month the prices of merchandise acquired from Mexico and the United States have already gone up.

Another dealer warned that "there are already shortages of denim and shoes because they weigh more in the luggage."

Both confessed that though their business license does not allow the sale of imported clothing, they have never been fined and their businesses are successful because the merchandise is better and more modern that what is available in state stores.

On Cubadebate, dozens of users consider the measures unjust for the average Cuban and link them to other problems, such as the existence of the dual-currency regime, low wages and corruption. EFE