For fifty years, all Cuban property sales have been strictly under the cigar-stained thumbs of Fidel and Raul Castro -- until today. The regime announced that starting next week citizens can own up to two houses, move without government approval, and buy and sell their houses. Some experts see a wave of Miami exiles trying to buy back family homes that have been lost since the Revolution -- though others aren't so sure that's the best idea.
"If you're thinking about buying property in Cuba, don't," Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American studies, tells Riptide. "Who is going to guarantee the title? It's like pouring your money down a sink."
It's not exactly clear how the new law -- which Cafe Fuerte has posted in full here -- will apply to foreigners who want to get in on the new Cuban real estate bubble, anyway.
Technically, only citizens and residents can buy and sell land under the law, but the New York Times reports that the law leaves open the possibility that highly valuable land -- including coastal areas and parts of Old Havana -- might be available for foreign developers.
Exiled Cubans living in the U.S. can't directly purchase land in Cuba, but Cuban-American families could use intermediaries or relatives on the island to make the deals for them.
While some see optimism in the Cuban government's shift on property rights, Juan Antonio Blanco, visiting assistant director of the Cuban Research Institute, says the change won't significantly improve Cuba's stagnant economy.
"This is a quite modest step that stops short of creating a real estate market in the island," he says. "I don't see the connection of this issue with the U.S. bilateral relation or foreign investors."
The law also seemingly allows Cubans who leave the island to sell their property, which the Times speculates could mean "a wave of sales and migration as Cubans unload property and use the proceeds to flee."
Blanco says it depends on how the government actually interprets the change.
"The theory that people will sell their homes to use money to come to the U.S. will have to be tested by reality," says Blanco.
Previously, Cubans could only exchange property through complicated barter arrangements and the black market.
Of course, even in the best case scenario, the new reforms won't help everyone. The majority of black Cubans won't benefit at all, for instance, because they are disproportionately poor and their American connections are limited, Gomez says.
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