News has several lives on this Island. First they hint at something but don’t publish it, then they announce it tersely in some national media, and later its echo repeatedly feeds popular fantasy. This has happened with the recent information about the new flexibility in buying and selling homes. For months–perhaps years–we spun the rumor that a new housing law was about to be approved, that the absurdities of real estate would no longer stand. But only when the Cuban Communist Party Congress addressed it in Guideline No. 297, could we put some hesitant certainty to it. Although late, the measure has sparked an exclamation of relief, but has also revealed our suspicions.
Curiously, most people who bring up the issue, repeatedly put the same question to me. “Can you sell your house before leaving the country?” everyone asks, as if the real estate business was just a step to fulfilling the widespread dream of emigration. Until now, someone who permanently left the country was dispossessed of their property. Only a family member living under the same roof–and for ten years–was able to stay put, but they had to pay the National Institute for Urban Reform the value of the house. Forced evictions of those who didn’t follow this rule became a common sight on the streets of this capital. Now, the great conundrum is whether a property owner will have the power to dispose of their home on the market and use that money to relocate to another latitude. How much time should elapse between this commercial transaction and the departure from the national territory?
We have been conned so much that people prefer to wrap themselves in skepticism and believe that the new selling measures will also be full of restrictions. I am surprisingly optimistic amid so much suspicion. I argue to the doubters, “The government is forced to open up, or the reality will leave them behind,” but they prefer to carry on without illusion. Notwithstanding their distrust, many cherish the idea of offering the walls within which they live in exchange for a ticket and visa to get out of Cuba. Sell and leave, trading a roof here for one there, using their small patrimony to escape. And do this before the real estate flag drops again, before the step back is taken.
5 July 2011