Cuba legalizes sale, purchase of real estate
Much-despised ban on these transactions took effect in stages over the first years after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959
By PAUL HAVEN
HAVANA — For the first time in a half-century, Cubans will be allowed to buy and sell real estate openly, bequeath property to relatives without restriction and avoid forfeiting their homes if they abandon the country.
The highly anticipated new rules instantly transform islanders' cramped, dilapidated homes into potential liquid assets in the most significant reform yet adopted by President Raul Castro since he took over the communist country from his brother in 2008.
But plenty of restrictions remain.
Cuban exiles continue to be barred from owning property on the island, though they can presumably help relatives make purchases by sending money. And foreigners can also hold off on dreams of acquiring a pied-a-terre under the Caribbean sun, since only citizens and permanent residents are eligible.
The law, which takes effect Nov. 10, limits Cubans to owning one home in the city and another in the country, an effort to prevent speculative buying and the accumulation of large real estate holdings. While few Cubans have the money to start a real estate empire, many city dwellers have struggled over the years to maintain title to family homes in the countryside, and the new law legalizes the practice.
The change follows October's legalization of buying and selling cars, though with restrictions that still make it hard for ordinary Cubans to buy new vehicles. The government has also allowed citizens to go into business for themselves in a number of approved jobs — everything from party clowns to food vendors and accountants — and permitted them to rent out rooms and cars.
While Castro has stressed that there will be no departure from Cuba's socialist model, he has also pledged to streamline the state-dominated economy by eliminating hundreds of thousands of state jobs and ending generous subsidies the state can no longer afford.
Cuba's government employs about 80 percent of the workforce, paying wages of just $20 a month in return for free education and health care, and nearly free housing, transportation and basic foods.
Economists and Cuba experts say the new property law will have a profound impact on people's lives, though probably will not be enough by itself to transform the island's limping economy.
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