Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cuba Clarifies Rights of State Workers to Homes

Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 12, 2008; Page A08

ZACATECAS, Mexico, April 11 -- Cuba's government quietly enacted new regulations Friday that clarify the rights of state workers to live in their state-owned homes long-term and transfer the dwellings to family members after death.

The decision seemed to inch property rights forward, but it stopped well short of allowing the unfettered purchase and sale of private homes. The measure was published in the official gazette of the Cuban Justice Ministry but went unmentioned in state media, and was only beginning to be discussed in public late Friday following reports by international wire services based in Havana.

In theory, the Cuban government has long controlled where its citizens live, requiring government approval of any proposed moves and forbidding real estate transfers or sales. But in practice, there is an active black market in which Cubans openly bribe government officials so they can move into roomier apartments or homes.

Cubans lucky enough to live in the crumbling mansions that dot Havana and other cities frequently convert their homes into illegal apartment buildings and collect rent from tenants, though they must pay bribes to ensure they are not cited.

A cryptic law passed in 1987 is interpreted by many Cubans as giving them the right to a limited form of home ownership, though some legal experts on the island say the law is more akin to a "right of use" rather than full ownership.

But the question of inheritance rights has always been fuzzy, and Cubans who considered themselves quasi-owners of their homes feared that if they died, their children could be forced out. They also feared being kicked out of their homes if they retired or lost their jobs. The regulations published Friday seemed to ensure that they could keep their homes even if they left their jobs.

Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a dissident economist who like most Cubans has not read the new regulations, said in an interview that he was "cautiously optimistic" after hearing news reports.

"It's a step in the right direction. It's something," Espinosa Chepe said in a telephone interview from Havana. "But what we're asking for is that we are given our property and that we have the right to sell it if we want to."

The property decision is the latest in a series of measures enacted since February, when Fidel Castro officially ceded power to his brother, Raúl. The younger Castro has also legalized the ownership of cellphones and lifted a ban on the sale of computers. A commentator on state-run television said this week that Castro will also lift the ceiling on state salaries.

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