The worst of the timid reforms of General Raul Castro is amnesia. In addition to the cynicism. All the prohibitions, whether it is sightseeing in your own country, having a cell phone, buying a car or now being able to sell, buy or exchange a home without the absurd regulations promulgated by the State, were designed by the government, where Castro II was the vice president.
There is no public apology from the government recognizing their blunders, especially not recognizing the guilt for those mistakes that ruled in national life for more than 50 years.
It is known that Fidel Castro, with no official opposition, drew up the rules, even violating his own constitution. Then in 2008 the General took the reins of power, at par, renewing the seats of power and retiring most of the ministers loyal to his brother. He terminated the inconsistencies, absurd violations of individual freedom, such as the boarding schools in the countryside where the students worked in the field, or not being able to stay in a hotel or sell your own home.
Cuba is a bizarre nation. Here, what is normal is abnormal and vice versa. For years, a majority wondered aloud why swapping homes should require permission from a state institution or why we have been denied the option of selling our homes, when the title shows us as the owner of the dwelling.
It was one of the many masks that allow the head of state to handle his citizens as if they were puppets. Castro II is throwing down some irrational regulations out of a pure instinct for survival.
There is still a large pile of prohibitions. From the abominable permits Cubans must ask for in order to travel, to the fatal stubbornness denying open access to the Internet, burdening the economic and personal future, in addition to monopolizing information, for a country with more than one million college graduates.
But let’s go back to the point. As of November 10, 2011, you can buy a house in Cuba.
According to the lawyer Laritza Diversent, the measure has its little tricks. To buy or sell in ‘special areas’, due to the population density in neighborhoods such as October 10, Cerro, Habana Vieja and Centro Habana, the person must have the approval of the corrupt Institute of Housing.
The licensed attorney, Diversent, has doubts about the new measures actually expediting the processing of the purchase and sale of a home. It is now mandatory to register the property in the Property Registry.
It turns out that the dilapidated legal offices do not have sufficient staff to deal with the number of customers who are coming round the corner. Something similar happens with the notaries, who are now increasing their legal presence in matters regarding the acquisition of a car or a house.
In each municipality, Havana has Notaries and Registries of Property. But due to the shortage of staff and computers, people have to wait in long lines from early in the morning.
Castro II attempts to lighten the bureaucratic burden suffered by ordinary Cubans as they try to process anything. Far from achieving this, the processing burdens are likely to increase. It is also unclear whether residents in so-called “frozen zones”, where ministers and mandarins live or where there are public or military institutions, can move without notice.
Despite the long lines, the paperwork, and of course the bribes that will run under the table to get things going, Cubans welcome the possibility of selling or buying a home.
Of course, the Real Estate stock is not very big. In Cuba, there is a deficit, the government says, of 600,000 homes. I think we should multiply this by three. It is common in a house to have, living together under one roof, three different generations. Given the lack of space, people expand their housing haphazardly.
It is very rare to see a house on the island that’s retained its original architecture. Rooms are added, sometimes endangering the structure of the house.
Those who have money go to the store and buy New York priced ceramics, floor tiles, sanitary ware or cement mortar. Note the record prices.
One meter of flooring costs between 12 and 27 CUC (convertible pesos). Tiles are around the same price. A sanitaryware set, including a sink produced in Brazil or Ecuador, costs from 150 to 200 CUC. The cement mortar costs 6.60 CUC. Sinks, faucets (taps) and other items also cost a good deal. To repair a house, the cost will not be less than 2,000 convertible pesos. That amounts to 48,000 national currency pesos. This is equivalent to the salary of an engineer working for 7 years, and he may not make even make that.
The government has removed subsidies for building materials sold in establishments known as ‘junkyards’. But because of the minimal delivery of items, within a few hours there is no cement or steel rods for sale.
There is so much apathy and corruption, that according to the official media, there are warehouses full of sand, blocks and other materials that lack means of transportation and so remain stranded.
Those who intend to buy a house in Cuba must have 2,000 CUC for a single room in a rooming sites; 20,000 CUC if you want a three bedroom apartment in satisfactory condition, or 60,000 CUC on average for a residence in the old quarter of Vedado, Nuevo Vedado or Miramar.
And, according to house brokers, it is likely that sales prices will rise rapidly. In Havana, a well-preserved 1956 car costs more than a two-bedroom apartment.
This tendency is bound to be reversed. The housing demand exceeds the supply. The remaining problem is the lack of money of the majority to take over a house. I guess that will increase phone calls to relatives abroad to send them the money. Exiles, prepare your wallets!
Photo: loooquito, Panoramio. Buildings repaired along the Paseo del Prado, Old Town Havana.
Translated by: CIMF, CASA
November 10 2011