31 Jul 2011

Private property sales to be allowed in Cuba

2:40 pm on 31 July 2011

Private property sales are about to make a comeback in Cuba for the first time since they were outlawed after the revolution in 1959.

The Communist Party will soon allow people to start buying and selling homes and cars.

The government says the changes should be in place by the end of the year.

Cuba (population 11 million) has a severe shortage of housing.

The BBC reports the shortfall is about 500,000 homes. Much of the existing housing stock is run-down and in need of repair.

Three generations often live together in a tiny apartment. Even divorced couples often end up living under the same roof because they have nowhere else to go.

The only legal way to move house is through a complicated bureaucratic swap system called ''La Permuta'' (The Exchange).

Every Saturday morning, hundreds gather on the Paseo de Prado in Central Havana looking for people to swap with.

Government permission is needed to make a swap and officially money is not allowed to change hands. This has led to under-the-table payments and widespread corruption.

Soon people will be allowed to buy and sell homes, or pay the difference when swapping, all with a minimum of government interference.

Property transactions will be performed by licensed notaries. The BBC reports this should avoid long waits for approval from various ministries and other government bodies.

Other moves

This is the latest in a series of modest but ideologically significant reforms that President Raul Castro has demanded since taking over from his ailing elder brother, Fidel.

So far, more than 200,000 Cubans have taken up the offer to become self-employed and set up small businesses. Many were working for themselves illegally on the black market.

In agriculture, the president is trying to reduce Cuba's dependence on costly food imports by revitalising the farming sector.

In a country where the average wage is barely $US20 per month, the government has leased more than 1 million hectares of unused state land to private farmers who now produce at least 70% of all the food grown on the island.

According to Granma, the official Communist Party newspaper, it will take until the end of the year to get the new property regulations and legislation in place.