Mon, Nov 07, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Cubans allowed to buy, sell homes again

The Observer, LONDON

“I almost feel rich,” said Yeni, 26, speaking from her dilapidated two-bedroom apartment in Havana’s Vedado District.

Her surroundings are not those of a wealthy woman. The home she shares with an infant cousin and two aunts was built in the 1940s. It has no hot water and has not been renovated in 70 years — but it is hers. And from Thursday, she will be able to sell it.

Shortly after the Cuban revolution brought former Cuban president Fidel Castro to power in 1959, all homes effectively became the property of the state. Cubans who remained in the country were given the right to live in the homes they occupied and pass them on to friends or relatives. They were also permitted to swap houses. However, selling or buying was prohibited.

That changed last week, when the Cuban government announced an “amendment” to the existing law, creating a legal property market.

It is part of a process that has been slowly unfolding since 2006, when Castro was forced by illness to hand over power to his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro, after 47 years in power. The younger Castro, who turned 80 in June, has emerged as far less dogmatic than Fidel. He vowed, on taking office, to make “structural changes” to the way Cuba was run. At first, those changes appeared minuscule; Cubans were permitted to have their own mobile phone contracts and stay in tourist hotels.

However, in the past 18 months, the scale of the reforms has increased. Last month, in a bid to increase productivity, it was announced that private farmers would be allowed to lease up to 67 hectares of land..

Raul Castro has also vowed to reduce the number of people on the state payroll by 20 percent and boost self-employment.

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