Cuba Lets Residents Sell Real Estate as Castro Eases Control Over Economy

Cuba’s communist government lifted a half-century ban on residents buying and selling property as President Raul Castro eases state control over the economy.

For the first time since the country’s 1959 revolution, Cubans will be able to own their main residence and one in the country, state-run Granma newspaper reported today on its website. The changes were already approved by the National Assembly and take effect Nov. 10.

Easing of restriction on property ownership may spur real estate development that is needed to overcome a housing shortage that affects nearly 1 million people, said Jose Manuel Palli, the director of Miami-based U.S.-Cuba Legal Forum.

“This is an important first step,” Manuel said in a phone interview. “Cuba has needed to do this for years.”

Many Cuban families live in crowded, crumbling buildings and have to trade on the black market to move to a new home, Manuel said. Even marriage is no way to overcome the ban on property sales, as young couples wait for years to move into their own house and even divorced couples live estranged under the same roof, he added.

The law will not allow Cuban exiles, who had homes confiscated after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, to buy properties as they are not considered residents.

Ailing Economy

Since Fidel handed power to his brother in 2006, Cuba’s government has begun to open up the economy in a bid to attract investment to the island nation of 11.2 million. Castro last year announced plans to fire 500,000 government-employed workers, about 10 percent of the workforce, as the slowing global economy hurts tourism and reduces the price of nickel, the country’s biggest export.

Cuba’s economy grew 1.9 percent in the first half of the year and is expected to grow 2.9 percent in 2011, Granma reported Nov. 1, citing comments by Trade and Foreign Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca.

On Aug. 2, Castro said that officials would further relax rules on self-employment and make it easier for Cubans to own cars and homes.

The change in property rules announced today will also enable Cubans or foreigners with permanent-residence status to swap and donate properties, the Havana-based newspaper reported.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Sabo in Panama City at esabo1@bloomberg.net; Nathan Crooks in Caracas at ncrooks@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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