14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 31 January 2017 – With an indigenous name and sands full of memories, Guanabo is the beach east of Havana that in recent months has experienced a quiet transformation. Many repatriated Cubans, foreign residents on the island, and local entrepreneurs have bought homes just a few yards from the sea to revive this Costa del Sol in decline.
José Antonio, 53, has his own real estate company, and operates under a self-employment license as a “manager of home buying and selling.” Despite the fact that the housing sector is going through complicated times due to the increase of official controls, Jose Antonio, who lived in Germany for a decade, has never known a better time.
“There is great demand in this area,” he told 14ymedio. In the 90’s he spent a vacation with his family in a wooden house very close to the sand. “I realized there was a lot of potential, because the owners did not have the money to repair their homes and create the international standards to rent them.”
Life in distant Europe helped this entrepreneur understand “what buyers are looking for”
The next thing Jose Antonio did was to begin the paperwork for repatriation, then he bought a house near the well-known Los Caballitos park and invested in it until it was “rental ready.” In those years it served as a bridge for European friends who wanted to spend long periods on the beach or buy the house of their dreams by the sea.
“When I decided to get into the real estate business, I already had a lot of contacts in the area and people trusted me.” This Monday, the real estate agent showed a couple, made up of a Havanan and a Milanese, a house overlooking the beach in the most commercial area of Guanabo.
“Entryway, living room, dining room, one bathroom, two bedrooms, patio in front and behind for 70,000 dollars,” José Antonio explains. However, his most effective argument has nothing to do with square meters or technical conditions. “This is Cuba’s Gold Coast,” he assures clients. “Now is the time to buy at auction prices, later it will cost a fortune.”
Life in distant Europe helped this entrepreneur understand “what buyers are looking for.” Most of his clients are retired with contacts in the Island who want to buy through a national intermediary, a hazardous operation that often does not end well. “Life is risk and many are willing to venture,” says the agent.
But not everything is golden in Guanabo. The town is the Cinderella of the three most important beaches that make up the east coast of Havana
José Antonio has also had several clients of Cuban origin who returned to the country after the immigration reform of 2013. Cuba’s ambassador to Washington, José Ramón Cabañas, stated last November that from the beginning of 2015 until now, some 13,000 nationals with residency in the United States returned to the country.
For about $120,000 the real estate agent has just closed the sale of a property with swimming pool. The new owners have begun to restore it to settle in the Island with their respective pensions accumulated as migrants in Austria. “Such a house would have cost them a million in Europe or the United States,” says José Antonio.
But not everything is golden in Guanabo. The town is the Cinderella of the three most important beaches that make up the east coast of Havana. While Santa María shows its white sands and Boca Ciega maintains the blue of its waters, the town where José Antonio resides has deteriorated rapidly in recent years.
“At the end of the day most of them are looking for the sun and that’s what we have here, of the best quality”
“We residents are trying to unite to repair the sidewalks,” says Pepín, born in the town and who has never wanted to move to another place. Most of the streets in the town have not been repaired for decades and the sewage situation is catastrophic. The drainage of the urban area ends in the sea and mixes with the waters where bathers swim.
In some places the air stinks with the debris running through the trenches. “A few years ago this was a beach for families, especially with children, but now they prefer to go to other more beautiful areas,” adds Pepín.
However, for José Antonio this type of problems “is transitory.” In a few years and “when this is filled with people with money, families will invest in repairs,” he says. “In the end, most of them are looking for the sun, and that’s what we have here of the best quality, with no gaps.”