Cuba plans limited housing and auto market

HAVANA Fri Jul 1, 2011 11:49am EDT

Cars drive on a street in Havana July 1, 2011. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

Cars drive on a street in Havana July 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Enrique De La Osa

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HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will authorize limited housing and car markets by 2012, the Communist party newspaper Granma said on Friday, a move awaited by local residents since the early 1960s when home and most auto sales were banned.

Granma, reporting on a recent meeting of top level party, government and other officials, said Cubans would still be prohibited from owning more than one home. But for the first time, they could buy and sell the dwellings with minimal government interference.

A ban on the buying and selling of cars registered after the 1959 Revolution will be completely lifted, Granma said, as will the prohibition on owning more than one vehicle.

The measures will not apply to foreigners unless they are permanent residents.

Cubans will have to pay a still undefined tax on the transactions and, in the case of homes, carry sales out through a state bank.

Regulations restricting inheritance and donations of a home will also be significantly loosened, Granma said. The changes would make it easier to sell property or pass it on to relatives upon death or before moving to another country, avoiding the now frequent confiscations by the state.

While there is legal home ownership in socialist Cuba, property owners cannot lawfully sell their houses. They can only do a swap, or "permuta," for another home, supposedly of equal value.

A thriving "permuta" market exists, and it is not unusual for money to be exchanged, but only under the table.

Car ownership in Cuba is permitted for a relatively privileged few, among them artists and athletes who have worked abroad, and doctors who have served overseas medical missions.

There is an exception for cars that predate the 1959 Revolution, mostly vintage American models that can be bought and sold freely by anyone. Long gone from roads in the rest of the world, they are still widely used as taxis in Cuba.

Plans to liberalize the sale of personal property were announced at a Communist Party Congress earlier this year upon the adoption of economic reforms. But they were moving ahead slowly due to the mountain of laws and regulations that existed, Granma said. The new deadline is the close of 2011, Granma said.

The news was music to the ears of most local residents who have bought and sold their homes and cars under the table for years and have complained about the bureaucracy and corruption that has grown up around the restrictions.

"It's great, and now all those people who have made our lives miserable and turned the regulations into a way to make money might have to earn a living," Marlen, a Havana nurse, quipped. She asked that her last name not be used.

Granma said authorization for buying and selling property would be performed by licensed notaries in the future, avoiding months and years of waiting for approval from various ministries and other government bodies.

(Editing by Jeff Franks)

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