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Cuba hails property revolution as govt abolishes asset ban

world Updated: Nov 07, 2011 00:52 IST

Cuba:"I almost feel rich!" says Yeni, 26, speaking from her dilapidated two-bedroom apartment in Havana's Vedado district. Her surroundings are not those of a wealthy woman. The home she shares with an infant cousin and two aunts was built in the 1940s. It has no hot water and has not been renovated in 70 years - but it is hers. And from Thursday she will be able to sell it.

Shortly after the Cuban revolution brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959, all homes effectively became the property of the state. Cubans who remained on the island were given the right to live in the homes they occupied and pass them on to friends or relatives. They were also permitted to swap houses. However, selling or buying was prohibited.

All that changed last week, when the Cuban government announced - with significant understatement - an "amendment" to the existing property law. What it amounts to is the creation of a legal property market and the most significant loosening of the state's dominance of Cubans' lives since the revolution.

It is part of a process that has been slowly unfolding since 2006, when Castro was forced by illness to hand over the presidency to his brother, Raúl, after 47 years in power. The younger Castro, who turned 80 last June, has emerged as far less dogmatic than Fidel. He vowed, on taking office, to make "structural changes" to the way Cuba was run. At first those changes appeared minuscule; Cubans were permitted to have their own mobile phone contracts and stay in previously off-limits tourist hotels.

But in the past 18 months the scale of the reforms has increased. Last month, in a bid to increase productivity, it was announced that private farmers would be allowed to lease up to 67 hectares of land and cultivate it themselves. Raúl Castro has also vowed to reduce the number of people on the state payroll by 20% and boost self-employment. In two years, more than 300,000 people have moved into private enterprise. Street stalls selling everything from pirate DVDs to kitchen implements have appeared all over Havana.