Restoring the Cuban City with a French Colonial Air


CIENFUEGOS, Cuba, Aug 5 (IPS) – The city of Cienfuegos, known in Cuba as the “Pearl of the South”, is unique for its spotless cleanliness, the orderly grid pattern of its streets, its 19th century architecture and its air of “Grande Dame” elegance. Now its past splendours, ravaged by time or left to deteriorate because of economic difficulties, are being restored.

“If you see anyone throwing trash in the streets, you can be sure it’s a stranger from out of town,” a woman born and raised in Cienfuegos told IPS, with a touch of civic pride and ownership.

Located 250 km southeast of Havana, the city was founded by French settlers in 1819, and its historic centre was declared a World Cultural Heritage site in 2005 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Gaining acceptance on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Humanity list was not an easy task, said Irán Millán, an architect who has worked for the city for more than three decades. “At the outset people assumed that only ancient cities counted as heritage, not those as modern as Cienfuegos,” he told IPS.

The small but tenacious team responsible for protecting cultural heritage in Cienfuegos got their first taste of victory in 1995, when the city’s historic centre was declared a national monument. “We kept going in the conviction that our contemporary heritage had value, and we persuaded the authorities to appreciate that,” he said.

Millán has been the city conservator for Cienfuegos since the office for heritage restoration was opened in 2005. He said the fact that most of his fellow architects trained in Italy influenced Cuba’s policy of preserving buildings without evicting the people who live in them, so that the residents reap the benefits of urban renewal.

“We cannot remove the population from the historic centre; that would take all the life and joy out of it,” he said. The strategy puts more pressure on the meagre resources available, and sometimes only façades of buildings have actually been painted in the “cuarterías” (tenements) in the heritage zone, where hundreds of families live in crowded conditions, all looking forward to a better life.

The policy of the office is for businesses and organisations in the historic centre to contribute the funds they internally allocate to conservation, towards the heritage restoration and development plans designed by this authority.

“If a firm wants to renovate premises, we give them the go-ahead on condition that they cooperate with the heritage office’s plans, and undertake the repair and renewal of the sidewalk and specified housing units in the vicinity,” he explained.

So far, resources have permitted the restoration of 46 percent of the 70-hectare World Heritage zone and 47 percent of the 90-hectare national monument area. Improvements have been made to 1,480 homes and 146 workplaces, and 45 “cuarterías” have been partially or totally renovated.

Coordinated efforts are helping to realise the “dream project” of pedestrianising Street 29, previously called Santa Isabel Street, and restoring it “just like it used to be,” said Millán. This thoroughfare connects the colonial-era pier with Martí Park, a large open space at the centre of the city street grid, named for Cuban national hero José Martí, that was once the “plaza de armas” or military drilling ground.

The remodelling of Street 29 will provide space for self-employed people engaged in private enterprise, a growing sector in Cuba as the state drastically reduces its payroll, on the rationale that local people will have a vested interest in looking after public property.

The project also includes an art gallery, pharmacy and coffee shop, to be ready when the newly-restored pedestrian street is completed.

Eighteen families living in a “cuartería” close to the coffee shop are also pitching in with a will. “We are working for better conditions. We will have more space and our walls and roofing will be solid, and we will have separate water pipes supplying each household,” Oslayda Miranda, who lives with her married son and two grandchildren, told IPS.

According to Miranda, at least one member of each of the families must work directly on the reconstruction, on contract to the Cuban government, which supplies the building materials, including bathroom fittings. “But in fact we all work: I help my son do the plastering, and I also do the cooking,” she stressed.

“It’s very hard work and we still have a lot to do. What is being rescued here is human beings, rather than bricks and mortar,” said Millán, the city conservator.

Cienfuegos contains architectural gems like the Thomas Terry theatre, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the government palace, and the Lion House, so called because of its imposing feline statues.

And then there is the Paseo del Prado, leading from the town entrance to the Malecón – the seaside promenade around the bay – which after sundown is a popular spot for lovers’ trysts. Above the normally calm waters of Cienfuegos bay, the fortress of Our Lady of the Angels, erected for protection against Caribbean pirates, stands guard over the city.

“Recovering our heritage is not the same thing as worshipping the past. We are committed to improving people’s quality of life,” said Millán. This has awakened interest in conservation and restoration work in Cienfuegos, he said.

Millán said international development aid provides complementary funding that contributes decisively to the city’s development plan.

The office of heritage and restoration relies on state funding for its work, so the projects department has developed its own strategies to channel “the support of culture-loving organisations and individuals who want to help raise our people’s standard of living, whether or not they identify politically with Cuba,” he said.

Participating organisations include the Franco-Cuban Cooperation Association, the Canadian embassy, the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). According to Millán, the Franco-Cuban Cooperation Association has adopted the skilled trades school as a key project.

The trades school, which is being rebuilt by its own students, trains young people in the special skills needed for the heritage office’s restoration work.

Millán said the school is a shining example of harmonious coordination of the efforts of different individuals and groups to employ young people who were neither working nor studying and reintegrate them into society, with guaranteed jobs at the end of the process. In Millán’s view, “That is the highest accomplishment of all, in addition to getting the students to appreciate and relate to their local heritage,” he said.

The official hopes his office will qualify as a “special treatment unit” in next year’s budget, with greater financial control and independence that would confer more stability and sustainability on its projects.

If funding is placed on a more favourable footing, the Fernandina Radio station, run by the heritage restoration office, might enjoy some expansion. At the moment reception of the radio signal is limited to the main shopping avenue in Cienfuegos. The station airs publicity and news about the historic centre for one hour every morning, and once an hour it plays music by Cuban singer-songwriter Benny Moré (1919-1963).

 

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For Cuba, a real-estate revolution


The New York Times:

José is an eager almost-entrepreneur with big plans for Cuban real estate. Right now he works illegally on trades, linking families that want to swap homes and pay a little extra for an upgrade.

But when Cuba legalizes buying and selling by the end of the year — as the government promised again this week — José and many others expect a cascade of changes: higher prices, mass relocation, property taxes and a flood of money from Cubans in the United States and throughout the world.

“There’s going to be huge demand,” said José, 36, who declined to give his last name. “It’s been prohibited for so long.”

Private property is the nucleus of capitalism, so the plan to legitimize it in Cuba, a country of slogans such as “socialism or death,” strikes many Cubans as jaw-dropping. Indeed, most people expect onerous regulations and, already, the plan outlined by the state media would suppress the market by limiting Cubans to one home or apartment and requiring full-time residency.

Yet even with state control, experts say, property sales could transform Cuba more than any of the economic changes announced by President Raúl Castro’s government, some of which were outlined in the National Assembly on Monday.

Compared with the changes already passed — more self-employment and cellphone ownership — or proposed — car sales and looser emigration rules — “nothing is as big as this,” said Philip Peters, an analyst with the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va.

Back to the old days

The opportunities for profits and loans would be far larger than what Cuba’s small businesses offer, experts say, potentially creating the disparities of wealth that have accompanied property ownership in places such as Eastern Europe and China.

Havana in particular may be in for a move back in time, to when it was a city more segregated by class.

“There will be a huge rearrangement,” said Mario Coyula, Havana’s director of urbanism and architecture in the ’70s and ’80s. “Gentrification will happen.”

Broader effects could follow. Sales would encourage much-needed renovation, creating jobs. Banking would expand because, under newly announced rules, payments would come from buyers’ accounts.

Meanwhile, the government, which owns all property now, would hand over homes and apartments to their occupants in exchange for taxes on sales, impossible in the current swapping market where money passes under the table.

And then there is the role of Cuban emigrants. While the plan seems to prohibit foreign ownership, Cuban Americans could take advantage of Obama administration rules letting them send as much money as they like to relatives on the island, fueling purchases and giving them a stake in Cuba’s economic success.

“That is politically an extremely powerful development,” Peters said, adding that it could spur policy changes by both nations.

Unique complications

The rate of change, however, will likely depend on complications peculiar to Cuba. The so-called Pearl of the Antilles struggled with poor housing even before the 1959 revolution, but deterioration, rigid rules and creative workarounds have created today’s warren of oddities.

There are no vacancies in Havana, Coyula, the urban designer, pointed out. Every dwelling has someone living in it. Most Cubans are essentially stuck where they are.

On the waterfront of central Havana, children peek out from buildings that should be condemned, with a third of the facades missing.

The housing stock, already run down before the revolution, continued to deteriorate, the U.S. embargo choked off the supply of building materials, and new construction failed to keep pace with demand.

Empty lots dot the capital’s seaside Malecon Boulevard as once-stately mansions regularly collapse after heavy rains. Many of those still standing are merely facades or are propped up by scaffolding and wooden beams.

Blocks inland, Cubans such as Elena Acea have subdivided apartments to Alice in Wonderland proportions. Her two-bedroom is now a four-bedroom, with a plywood mezzanine where two stepsons live one atop another, barely able to stand in their own rooms.

Like many Cubans, she hopes to move: trade her apartment for three smaller places so the elder son, 29, can start a family.

“He’s getting married,” she said. “He has to move out.”

Despite reassurances — on Monday, Marino Murillo, the country’s economic czar, said selling would not need government approval — Acea and many neighbors seemed wary of the government’s promise to let go. Some Cubans expect rules forcing buyers to hold properties for five or 10 years. Others say the government will make it hard to take profits off the island, through exorbitant taxes or limits on currency exchange.

Still more, like Ernesto Benítez, 37, an artist, cannot imagine a real open market.

“They’re going to set one price, per square foot, and that’s it,” he said.

He added, Cubans would respond by setting their own prices, and that might be enough to stimulate movement, he said.

He hopes so. Benítez and the woman he has lived with for nearly a decade broke up 18 months ago. Each is dating someone new and there are nights, they admit, that get a little awkward. Only a narrow bathroom separates their bedrooms.

Katia González, 48, whose parents passed down her apartment before they died (which Cuba allows), said she would consider selling for a fair price. What did she think her two-bedroom just blocks from the ocean, in Havana’s best neighborhood, could command?

“Oh, $25,000,” she said. “A little more, maybe $30,000.”

In Miami, a similar apartment might cost nearly 10 times that, which is what many Cuban Americans seem to be thinking. José and several other brokers in Havana said real-estate transactions on the black market routinely involved money from Cubans overseas, especially Florida.

“There’s always money coming in from Miami,” said Gerardo, a broker who withheld his full name. “The Cuban in Miami buys a house for his cousin in Cuba, and when he comes here in the summer for a couple of months, he stays in that house.”

Murky rules

Technically, this is a violation of the trade embargo that began under President Eisenhower. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, deals or investments with Cubans are prohibited. Receiving money or profit from Cuba is also illegal.

But the rules are muddy in practice. Family transactions — mainly involving recent emigrants — seem to be expanding with a wink from the Obama administration.

Supporting private business is now encouraged under the general license that lets Cuban Americans visit relatives, and in 2009, President Obama established a policy of letting Cuban Americans visit the island whenever they want and send unlimited remittances to relatives.

Beyond that, enforcement against individuals, as opposed to businesses, is practically nonexistent. In the past 18 months, one American was penalized for violating the sanctions, with a fine of $525, according to a congressional report published last month.

One thing that isn’t expected to be a topic of debate in Cuba is exile claims on homes.

Over time, said Antonio Zamora, a Miami lawyer who specializes in foreign investment, families that occupied the homes of Cubans who left the island have essentially become the owners of the dwellings.

Experts say the Cuban diaspora has begun to create a tiered social system in Cuba. Cuban emigrants sent back about $1 billion in remittances last year, studies show, with an increasing proportion of that money financing budding capitalists in need of pizza ovens or other equipment to work privately. Homes would simply expand the bond, experts say, and offers are already arriving.

Ilda, 69, lives alone in a five-bedroom, ninth-floor apartment with views of the sea. A visiting Cuban-American couple — “chic, very well dressed,” she said — recently asked to buy her apartment for $150,000, with little care for any bans on foreign ownership.

“I told them I can’t,” Ilda said. “We’re waiting for the law.”

Even when the law changes, she said, she would prefer a “permuta,” a trade, because she would be guaranteed a place to live.

Nowhere to go

Her fear of having nowhere to go is common. One recent study, by Sergio Díaz-Briquets, a Washington-based demography expert, found that Cuba has a housing deficit of 1.6 million units. The government says the number is closer to 500,000, still a serious problem.

Coyula said money from sales might not be enough to fix the shortage, since there is almost no construction industry, permitting process or materials to build with.

Other thorny issues might have to be revisited.

“Evictions haven’t happened here since 1939,” he said. “There’s a law forbidding them.”

For now, Cubans are trying to grasp basic details. How will the mortgage system work? How high will taxes be? What’s a fair price?

There is even a question of how buyers and sellers will come together.

Classified listings are illegal in Cuba, which explains why brokers such as José, known as corredores, spend their days moving through open-air bazaars with notebooks listing apartments offered or desired.

He already has two employees, and when the new law arrives, whether his services are legal or not, he expects to hire more.

“We have to get coordinated,” he said. “It’s coming.”

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Home sales would be a sea change for Cuba


Miami Herald: Selling an apartment in front of the Habana Libre, excellent conditionThe seller, Marita, is advertising this Havana apartment on revolico.com, an online marketplace that’s kind of like a Cuban Craigslist. She’s asking the equivalent of around $57,600 in convertible Cuban pesos.

Of course, at the moment real estate sales in Cuba are strictly illegal and have been for the past five decades. But that may change soon. As part of sweeping economic reforms unveiled at the Communist Party Congress in April, Cuba plans to allow the buying and selling of homes and cars.

A July 1 article in Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, painted the broad brush strokes of the real estate reform: such transactions would be permitted with little government interference beyond getting notary approval, making payment through a state bank and paying an as yet unspecified tax.

The real estate reform has yet to become law, but it’s possible it could when the National Assembly, Cuba’s parliament, convenes Monday for a three-day meeting at Havana’s Convention Palace. In any case, the government has said a new law will take effect by the end of the year.

This potential sea change has set off a flurry of activity on both sides of the Florida Straits. For years, Cuban-Americans have been funneling money to relatives to fix up tired properties or for under-the-table payments to “buy’’ a home or sweeten a permuta, or swap, the accepted form of acquiring Cuban real estate.

Now with the possibility of a true real estate market developing, people have been dusting off property titles or trying to find them and have been busy fixing up properties they anticipate putting on the market, said Antonio R. Zamora, a Miami lawyer who specializes in foreign investment.

“A lot of money is coming from Miami — some of it’s speculative,’’ said Zamora, who visited Cuba recently.

Some exiles say they have made under-the-table payments to purchase beach homes or other properties from family or friends with the understanding that some day they will own the homes outright. But they have no official paperwork to acknowledge such transactions.

In these cases, it should be buyer beware, said George Harper, a Miami attorney who left Cuba when he was 17. “That’s all well and good but any deal is subject to what the local laws are.’’

The expected law does not allow foreign ownership. The guidelines announced in Granma said that foreigners and Cubans living abroad can’t own property unless they are permanent residents of Cuba. Cubans will be allowed to own only one home and they can inherit a dwelling, even if the relatives of the deceased don’t live in the home, according to Granma.

Because of the influx of exile money, Zamora said it would be more realistic to “get the name of the foreign relative into the title.”

Phil Peters, a vice president at the Lexington Institute and a veteran Cuba watcher, said that the exile money flowing into Cuba may have an impact beyond investment.

“Now with the door open for Cuban-Americans to visit, to support their families, to invest and to perhaps indirectly buy real estate, it becomes not just an exile community but also an immigrant community with a foot in both places,’’ he said.

One thing that isn’t expected to be a topic of debate in Cuba is exile claims on homes.

Over time, Zamora said, families who occupied the homes of Cubans who left the island have essentially become the owners of the dwellings.

“There’s always been a difference of opinion on residential properties that were taken but now I think most people, with some notable exceptions, have given up on the notion of getting those properties back,’’ said Harper.

He’s been back to Cuba twice since he left as a teenager and visited the home where his family once lived. He found several families in the residence. “From a humanitarian point of view, it would be impractical to kick those people out,’’ he said.

Also expected to change once a property law is enacted is the messy permuta system. Currently, homes that are exchanged are supposed to be of “equal value.’’ But matching up the homes on offer with what people want is often a tricky business.

Sometimes two apartments are exchanged for a large home in a prime area and multiple parties are involved in so-called triangular deals. Although no money is supposed to change hands, there are sometimes under-the-table payments to even up deals or bribes paid to officials to let dubious swaps go through.

Under the new system, someone wanting to downsize from a four-bedroom home with a garage, for example, to a smaller apartment will probably just be able to do the swap and pay the difference in value, said Zamora. “The reform should make the permuta much easier and out in the open,’’ he said.

Besides cleaning up illicit housing transactions, the government has said the reform is designed to help with Cuba’s serious housing shortage.

But Harper said, “The fact that people can buy and sell homes won’t really impact the housing supply. If Cuba had money to build new housing, I think they would have done it by now.’’

Cuba, however, may be counting on real estate owners to expand and improve properties. In its effort to move more people off the state payroll into self-employment, the government has said that renting rooms, gardens and even swimming pools can be considered an alternative to state employment. Permitting home ownership may also encourage home building.

“If people are allowed to sell homes, this is a huge step forward in terms of property rights,’’ said Peters. “It makes assets liquid, a home can be used as collateral.’’

Because of the possibility of freeing up capital when a home is sold, other entrepreneurial activity may be unleashed, Peters said. “This really would be a sign of the Cuban government being serious about letting go of controls,’’ he said.

A Cuban housing market? Govt is lifting a taboo


HAVANA (AP) — Each morning before the sun rises too high, Cubans gather at a shaded corner in central Havana, mingling as though at a cocktail party. The icebreaker is always the same: “What are you offering?”

This is Cuba’s informal real-estate bazaar, where a chronic housing shortage brings everyone from newlyweds to retirees together to strike deals that often involve thousands of dollars in under-the-table payments. They’re breaking not just the law but communist doctrine by trading and profiting in property, and now their government is about to get in on the action.

President Raul Castro has pledged to legalize the purchase and sale of homes by the end of the year, bringing this informal market out of the shadows as part of an economic reform package under which Cuba is already letting islanders go into business for themselves in 178 designated activities, as restaurateurs, wedding planners, plumbers, carpenters.

An aboveboard housing market promises multiple benefits for the cash-strapped island: It would help ease a housing crunch, stimulate construction employment and generate badly needed tax revenue. It would attack corruption by officials who accept bribes to sign off on illicit deals, and give people options to seek peaceful resolutions to black-market disputes that occasionally erupt into violence.

It’s also likely to suck up more hard currency from Cubans abroad who can be counted on to send their families cash to buy, expand and remodel homes, especially since President Barack Obama relaxed the 50-year-old economic embargo to allow unlimited remittances by Cuban-Americans.

“All these things are tied in,” said Sergio Diaz-Briquets, a U.S.-based demography expert. “They want expatriate Cubans to contribute money to the Cuban state, and this is one big incentive for people who want to help their families.”

But few changes are likely to be as complex and hard to implement as real estate reform.

From the earliest days of the revolution, Fidel Castro railed against exploitative, absentee landlords, and enacted a reform that gave property ownership to whoever lived in a home, regardless of who held title. Most who have left the island forfeited their properties to the state. The government, Castro preached, would provide everything a citizen could need: employment, food, education and housing, all for little or no money at all.

But the housing stock, already run down before the revolution, continued to deteriorate, the U.S. embargo choked off the supply of building materials, and new construction failed to keep pace with demand.

Meanwhile, cyclones and salty air can start eating through metal bars in a year and have decimated rural shanties and older quarters of Havana. Empty lots dot the capital’s seaside Malecon boulevard as once-stately mansions regularly collapse following heavy rains. Many of those still standing are merely facades or are propped up by scaffolding and wooden beams.

While they wait for the new law to be enacted and the specifics to be announced, Cubans have few legal options. They can enroll in cooperative construction projects, build on existing properties or join the long waiting list for government housing. Or they can head to the open-air real-estate market in hopes of negotiating a “permuta,” which officially is a swap of equal-value properties but in reality usually involves illegal cash on the side.

Many enlist the services of “runners” like Manuel Valdez, an 83-year-old ex-military man who has been brokering the transactions for four decades. At the downtown bazaar, Valdez holds court on a concrete bench, keeping track of real estate offers in a tattered notebook and on posterboard that he tapes to a tree.

Gesturing at the people milling around hoping to strike a deal, Valdez said housing is such a problem that legalization was inevitable: “This is a situation that the state had to get off its back one way or another.”

There’s also www.revolico.com, a kind of Cuban Craigslist that has real estate ads asking tens of thousands of dollars. Site operators claim the real estate section alone gets 30,000 unique visits a month even though islanders must find a way around the Web censors.

Some Cubans enter into sham marriages to make deed transfers easier. Others move into homes ostensibly to care for an elderly person living there. They register at the address and, after enough time passes, can legally claim the “inherited” title. Nowhere is there an official record of the money changing hands.

A Havana professional with a job that pays far more than most salaries on the island told of swapping his tiny apartment about 10 years ago for a bigger, historic home whose bathroom and roof were falling apart, and whose occupants, a 60-something couple, could no longer manage.

The couple took over his recently remodeled and repainted flat. They also received $1,200 in cash — something that will no longer be illegal once Castro’s housing reform takes effect.

The professional reflected on the anomaly of people with money but no home to buy, and people with bigger homes than they need, and the risk they all run trying to change their circumstances. Some Cubans have had their homes confiscated when their illegal sales came to light.

“It would be so helpful if you could do that legally,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the transaction’s illicit nature.

“It is such a big problem, the housing situation,” said Diaz-Briquets, who estimated in a recent paper that the country of 11 million people was short 1.6 million units of “adequate housing” in 2010. “They have been trying for years to solve it, and it’s finally dawned on them that the state is never going to do it.”

The Cuban government puts the shortfall at closer to 500,000 homes. Still, the result is legions of bickering divorcees trapped under the same roof; newlyweds forced to bunk up with siblings, cousins, uncles, and aunts; and elderly people unable to repair their crumbling homes.

Juana Ines Delgado’s plight is typical. She shares her tiny studio in Old Havana with her grown son, married daughter and 4-year-old granddaughter, while her son-in-law spends nights at his aunt’s place down the street.

“It’s a marriage that’s not the way a marriage should be, you know what I mean?” said Delgado, 61. “My situation is what it is. … But I hope my children don’t have to end their days here.”

Cuba experts caution that the new measure is just a first step toward solving the housing crisis, and note that it deliberately stops short of creating a freewheeling, capitalist real estate market.

Raul Castro has said home ownership will be limited to one per individual to avoid accumulation of wealth. The government has announced plans to extend credit for purchasing building materials, but specifics are still unknown and no mechanism is in place for home loans. Duties will be levied on both sellers and buyers, and if taxes are too steep it could provide enough incentive to underreport transactions.

Only islanders and permanent residents will be able to buy property, but there’s at least a potential for Cubans to front for foreigners keen on owning a waterfront art-deco masterpiece.

“You start down a path of property accumulation and who knows where that’s going to lead,” says Rafael Romeu, a U.S.-based expert on the Cuban economy.

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Revolutionary Cuba Now Lays Sand Traps for the Bourgeoisie


MEXICO CITY — One of Fidel Castro’s first acts upon taking power was to get rid of Cuba’s golf courses, seeking to stamp out a sport he and other socialist revolutionaries saw as the epitome of bourgeois excess.

Now, 50 years later, foreign developers say the Cuban government has swung in nearly the opposite direction, giving preliminary approval in recent weeks for four large luxury golf resorts on the island, the first in an expected wave of more than a dozen that the government anticipates will lure free-spending tourists to a nation hungry for cash.

The four initial projects total more than $1.5 billion, with the government’s cut of the profits about half. Plans for the developments include residences that foreigners will be permitted to buy — a rare opportunity from a government that all but banned private property in its push for social equality.

Mr. Castro and his comrade in arms Che Guevara, who worked as a caddie in his youth in Argentina, were photographed in fatigues hitting the links decades ago, in what some have interpreted as an effort to mock either the sport or the golf-loving president at the time of the revolution, Dwight D. Eisenhower — or both.

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who maintains close ties with Cuba, has taken aim at the pastime in recent years as well, questioning why, in the face of slums and housing shortages, courses should spread over valuable land “just so some little group of the bourgeois and the petit bourgeois can go and play golf.”

But Cuba’s deteriorating economy and the rise in the sport’s popularity, particularly among big-spending travelers who expect to bring their clubs wherever they go, have softened the government’s view, investors said. Cuban officials did not respond to requests for comment, but Manuel Marrero, the tourism minister, told a conference in Europe this month that the government anticipates going forward with joint ventures to build 16 golf resorts in the near future.

For the past three years, Cuba’s only 18-hole course, a government-owned spread at the Varadero Beach resort area, has even hosted a tournament. It has long ceased to be, its promoters argued, a rich man’s game.

“We were told this foray is the top priority in foreign investment,” said Graham Cooke, a Canadian golf course architect designing a $410 million project at Guardalavaca Beach, along the island’s north coast about 500 miles from Havana, for a consortium of Indians from Canada. The company, Standing Feather International, says it signed a memorandum of agreement with the Cuban government in late April and will be the first to break ground, in September.

Andrew Macdonald, the chief executive of London-based Esencia Group, which helps sponsor the golf tournament in Cuba and is planning a $300 million country club in Varadero, said, “This is a fundamental development in having a more eclectic tourist sector.”

The other developments are expected to include at least one of the three proposed by Leisure Canada, a Vancouver-based firm that recently announced a licensing agreement with the Professional Golfers Association for its planned resorts in Cuba, and a resort being designed by Foster & Partners of London.

The projects are primarily aimed at Canadian, European and Asian tourists; Americans are not permitted to spend money on the island, under the cold-war-era trade embargo, unless they have a license from the Treasury Department.

Developers working on the new projects said they believed Cuba had a dozen or so courses before the revolution, some of which were turned into military bases. Cuba and foreign investors for years have talked about building new golf resorts, but the proposals often butted against revolutionary ideals and red tape. Several policy changes adopted at a Communist Party congress in April, however, appear to have helped clear the way, including one resolution specifically naming golf and marinas as important assets in developing tourism and rescuing the sagging economy.

“Cuba saw the normal sun and salsa beach offerings and knew it was not going to be sustainable,” said Chris Nicholas, managing director of Standing Feather, which negotiated for eight years with Cuba’s state-run tourism company. “They needed more facets of tourism to offer and decided golf was an excellent way to go.”

The developers said putting housing in the complexes was important to make them more attractive to tourists and investors, and to increase profits.

Still, John Kavulich, a senior adviser for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said Cuba had a history of pulling back on perceived big steps toward freer enterprise and might wrestle to explain how such high-dollar compounds could coexist with often dilapidated housing for everyone else.

“Will Cuba allow Cuban citizens to be members, to play?” he said. “How will that work out? Allowing someone to work there and allowing someone to prosper there is an immense deep ravine for the government.”

But Mr. Macdonald said political issues were moot, given that Cuba already had come to terms with several beach resorts near Havana that generally attracted middle-class foreign travelers.

“It’s not an issue for them,” he said. “It’s tourism. It’s people coming to visit the country.”

If the projects are built as envisioned, the tourists will enjoy not just new, state-of-the-art courses and the opportunity for a second home in Cuba, but shopping malls, spas and other luxury perks. Standing Feather, which calls its complex Estancias de Golf Loma Linda (Loma Linda Golf Estates), promises 1,200 villas, bungalows, duplexes and apartments set on 520 acres framed by mountains and beach.

The residences are expected to average $600,000, and rooms at the 170-room hotel the complex will include may go for about $200 a night, a stark contrast in a nation where salaries average $20 a month.

Standing Feather said that to build a sense of community and provide the creature comforts of home among its clientele, the complex will include its own shopping center, selling North American products under relaxed customs regulations.

“It is in the area that Castro is from, in Holguin Province,” added Mr. Cooke, the golf course architect.

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Cuba to finally unveil Communist-approved reforms


HAVANA (Reuters) – More than 300 economic reforms approved last month at Cuba’s Communist Party congress will be unveiled on Monday when publications containing the changes go on sale, the country’s state press said on Saturday.

Communist Party newspaper Granma said there will be a pamphlet listing the changes and a 48-page tabloid explaining them.

They will sell for, respectively, one and two Cuban pesos each, or the equivalent of about 12 cents U.S. for both.

The reforms represent President Raul Castro’s attempt to strengthen Cuba’s struggling Soviet-style economy by encouraging more private initiative and reducing the role and size of the state.

Many of the reforms are already underway, but others had to be refined and approved April 18 at the congress of Cuba’s only legal political party and the final form has not been revealed.

Cubans are particularly anxious to see what the Communists decided about the fate of the universal monthly food ration that Castro says is too costly and whether they will be able to freely sell homes and cars.

The president, who succeeded his older brother Fidel Castro in 2008, has said the ration should only go to those who truly need it, but many Cubans fear losing a social benefit they have received for almost half a century.

To the chagrin of many Cubans, sales of homes and cars have been severely limited for years, but Raul Castro has promised a loosening of restrictions.

Major reforms already underway include the slashing of state payrolls, allowing more self employment, and the leasing of state lands to would-be farmers.

The changes are expected to give more autonomy to state-run companies and take steps to encourage more foreign investment, including in such things as luxury golf course resorts that previously have been anathema to Cuba’s communist rulers.

Raul Castro has said the changes are needed to assure that Cuban communism put in place after the Caribbean island’s 1959 revolution lives on when the current, aging rulers are gone.

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Cuba approves economic changes at party summit


HAVANA (AP) — Cubans hoped to get details Tuesday of the sweeping economic changes and new leadership choices their government approved in closed-door meetings as the Communist Party held its last day of talks, to be concluded with a closing speech by President Raul Castro.

With Castro widely expected to take over from his brother Fidel as the party’s first secretary, all eyes will be on the selection of his new No. 2, which could signal a possible favored successor.

Delegates approved about 300 economic proposals in a unanimous vote Monday — including a measure that apparently recommends legalizing the buying and selling of private property.

Also on the table was a proposal to eventually eliminate the monthly ration book, which provides Cubans with a basic basket of heavily subsidized food and other goods. Other measures envision providing seed capital for would-be entrepreneurs and eliminating the island’s unique dual-currency system.

Among those who voted in favor was former leader Fidel Castro, who along with his brother was named a delegate to the Congress.

“The economic policy (approved here) follows the principle that only socialism can preserve the victories of the revolution,” said Marino Murillo, an ex-economy minister in charge of implementing the reforms.

Cubans were treated to a two-hour broadcast on state-run television late Monday of Communist Party committee members debating the finer details of the package of proposals, which have not yet been made public, although they are based on ideas that have been discussed extensively in recent months.

Delegates could be seen referencing subclauses by number and flipping through pages in front of them, as projectors juxtaposed close-ups of original and revised texts.

At one point, a committee discussing changes to agricultural laws voted on a small change in the wording of a sentence covering artificial insemination of livestock.

“We need to emphasize in the guideline that we should be aiding genetic development and artificial insemination,” said one delegate.

“We are in agreement with the proposal,” another committee member replied, before the discussion turned to ways to spur greater milk production.

The Party Congress does not have the power to enact the changes into law, but the suggestions are expected to be acted upon quickly by the National Assembly over the coming days and weeks.

Officials called the gathering to set a new course for Cuba’s economy and rejuvenate an aging political class composed largely of octogenarians who led Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

On Monday, an official photograph shot inside the spacious convention hall where the party confab was taking place showed Castro placing his vote inside a ballot box. “Candidacy for Members of the Central Committee,” it read. A box that said “Vote for All” was checked on the ballot, indicating that Castro had approved an entire slate of candidates, though their names were not visible.

Fidel and Raul Castro have held the top two spots in the Communist Party since its creation in 1965. But at this year’s Sixth Party Congress, there is an air of mystery surrounding the leadership vote.

In March, Fidel, 84, revealed that he had resigned as first secretary of the party when he ceded the presidency to Raul several years ago, although the party’s website still lists him as its leader.

In a speech opening the Congress this weekend, Raul warned that a new generation is needed to take over when the old guard is gone.

He even proposed term limits for officials including the president — a taboo subject during the half-century in which Cuba has been ruled by either him or his brother. The goal is to create opportunities for younger politicians so they can gain experience, Raul said.

The speech intensified speculation the job might go to someone such as Lazaro Exposito, the young Communist Party chief in Santiago de Cuba, or Murillo, who has had a leading role in Congress.

In a long opinion piece that appeared in state-run newspapers and websites Tuesday, Fidel Castro said he was all for the term-limit proposal made by Raul, despite the fact that he himself ruled the island for more than 47 years.

“I like the idea (of term limits),” Fidel wrote. “It is a subject on which I have long meditated.”

The revolutionary icon says that while in power, “I must confess I was never very worried about how long I exercised the role of president … and first secretary of the party.”

The former leader also said he was glad that Raul put the names of their aging revolutionary comrades on a list of potential new party leaders, but that their inclusion was purely honorary, and that both men knew it was time to elect younger leaders — particularly women and Cubans of African descent.

Fidel said his brother had shown him his proposals days before sharing them with the Congress, an apparent effort to counter any rumors that the two men disagreed.

“He shared (the report) with me several days ago on his own initiative, just as he has with many other subjects without my asking him,” Fidel wrote.