Monday, April 21, 2008

Cuba could ease rules on travel abroad, property sales

Miami Herald
Posted on Mon, Apr. 21, 2008

Cuba could ease rules on travel abroad, property sales
Cuban citizens may soon be allowed to travel abroad without official permits. They may also soon be able to freely rent their homes, sell properties with ownership titles and acquire automobiles without special authorizations.

The Cuban government has already instituted such liberal measures as allowing the purchase of computers, cellphones and other electronics; authorizing Cuban nationals to stay at resort hotels -- once exclusively for foreign tourists -- eliminating salary caps; and allowing farmers to keep produce they grow.

Now the Cuban government under Raúl Castro plans to lift restrictions further.

''These are the most complex measures, because they have legal implications and repercussions for the nation, and have generated much debate within the directorate levels,'' a Cuban government official who requested anonimity told El Nuevo Herald.

Besides the migration reform that will loosen requirements for overseas travel, the following reforms are expected to be announced by the Cuban government:

• Freedom to rent homes and rooms, both to foreigners and Cuban citizens and the controlled sale of real estate by registered owners.

• No restrictions on the sale of automobiles; previously prohibited from transferring titles. The government is also considering selling vehicles to the public.

• Elimination of the decree that limits citizens from traveling freely within the island, especially toward Havana.

Also being studied by the Cuban government are the following measures that could be instituted by this year or next:

• Revaluation of the Cuban peso in relation to the convertible peso (CUC) to the tune of 19 Cuban pesos per CUC; with the intention of gradually aligning the values until there is a single monetary currency.

• Flexibility of restrictions for private enterprise and freelancers; allowing citizens to open small businesses.

• Reorganization of government agencies by fusing those that are currently governing similar sectors.

The path to easing restrictions on the rental market was cleared on April 11 when the Cuban National Housing Institute made public a resolution to give ownership of state housing to the occupants or their heirs.

Within weeks, many Cubans will become first-time homeowners as a result of the resolution, multiplying the real estate rentals market in a nation where housing continues to be a problem for much of the population.

''The orientations for these authorizations are already in the hands of the provincial delegations [for housing],'' said a housing official in Havana.

According to information obtained by El Nuevo Herald from housing officials in Cuba, the plan is to initially deregulate the renting of homes and rooms, followed by a second phase of reforms allowing the sale and purchase of real estate properties, which are currently restricted by the 1984 National Housing Law.

A panel of experts is studying the matter of property in Cuba and results are expected to be revealed by 2010.

''There is a consensus for the sale of houses under certain requisites to avoid real estate speculation, illicit sales to foreigners through front men and the uncontrolled escalation of prices,'' said the National Housing Institute official, who asked to remain anonymous.

Measures deregulating the sale and purchase of automobiles, including those that cannot be transferred, may be imminent. The Cuban regime seems not only to have decided on divesting itself of its fleet of used cars, but also willing to explore the market for offering new vehicles in state-run dealerships, costing about $11,000.

The 1997 decree restricting travel within the island as a means to deter rural migration to Havana may soon be repealed, according to officials. Of all the short-term reforms, migration continues to be the central topic of debate.

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