Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cuba Fixr Upprs, Bch Vus, Rstricts Apply

In its May 29 edition the Washington Post reported another chapter in the seemingly inexorable unraveling of the U.S. embargo against Cuba: Cuban-Americans living abroad may now be able to buy property on the island.

Three years ago the Cuban government did away with a thicket of laws banning the private buying and selling of property, and combined with the recent loosening by the Obama administration of the trade embargo, that has opened the possibility, if just that, of some exiles buying property on the island at bargain prices.

A Cuba entrepreneur has even set up a Havana-based, bilingual web page, Espacio Cuba, to help folks find the "home of their dreams in Cuba."

It sounds enticing, particularly because ever since I've known Stew he has been agitating about living near the ocean. A place near a gorgeous Cuban beach would fit that ticket nicely.

To most Cuban-Americans, though, particularly those over sixty years old, the gradual lifting of the embargo presents a bitter irony.

For decades they've vociferously defended the embargo, which stood as a rationale for the years of hardship they've endured in exile and their implacable opposition to the Castro regime.

But now Cuba's opening might make possible their dream of returning home, indeed buying a home on the island, before they die.

The United States embargo in effect has been coming apart for several years, even before the recent rapprochement between the two countries initiated by the Obama administration and Raúl Castro in December.

My cousin's house in the southern coastal town of Cienfuegos—and
a few blocks from the sea—includes a cherry-shape
1957 Chevy in the garage. 
When Stew and I visited Miami a couple of years ago, the signs were literally everywhere, on buses, bus stops, billboards and empty walls.

Visit your family in Cuba! Send money to your relatives in Cuba! Send them cosmetics, car transmissions, whatever! Bring them for a visit to Miami (psst: Most of them never to return)! Accordingly, flights from Miami to backwater places on the island also proliferated.

"What embargo?" asked my stepmother, none too happily, the last time I saw her. She's not one likely to go back, mind you, still fuming about the U.S. returning Elián Gonzáles to his dad in Cuba in 2000.

I'd like to explore the possibilities and I know that Stew would too. At the mere mention of the C-word—Cuba—he reaches for the luggage, few questions asked.

From Mexico City's airport, Cuba is only three hours away, no fuss, no dealing with immigration hassles at U.S. airports. I hold a Cuban passport, have family in Cuba and Stew and I are legally married, so no problema according to the State Department.

Apparently it's not all quite that easy according to the Washington Post. For now only Cuban citizens are allowed to buy property, although the government in partnership with Chinese investors is putting up condominiums that foreigners could acquire. Transfers of money can be complex too. One realtor operating in Cuba described the market as "immature." Buying a house in Cuba is tricky business.

Then there's the deplorable state of much of the property on the island which has crumbled for fifty years far beyond the reach of any Home Depot, Lowes, or Bed Bath & Beyond. I can imagine that tackling the renovation of a Cuban fixer-upper would provide enough fodder for a dozen episodes and many laughs to viewers of the Home and Garden Channel.

Still, hmm. I recall a friend's story about his dad, who after a life of frugal Chevrolets and Fords showed up at home one day—if I recall on the eve of his seventieth birthday—with a Cadillac d'Elegance Super Supremo or some such insanity. His dad's was a what-the-hell kind of decision one makes late in life.

Let's do some math. In November Stew turns 69 and in December I reach 68. A beach house in Cuba, under swaying palm trees; humid, briny breezes blowing through the porch in the afternoon; a parrot sitting on a tree; unlimited amounts of Cuban food.

Hmm, and hmm again. Crazy, but definitely something to consider.

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11 comments:

  1. I say: Go for it! I still have not given up my dream of working with the Salvation Army in Cuba. I may see you there.

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    Replies
    1. Now that Raul Castro is talking about returning the Catholic Church (!), the Salvation Army might return to Cuba faster than you think. The Lord might move in strange ways indeed.

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  2. My sister has been saying for years that we need to get the addresses of our grandparent's properties so we can claim them when Cuba opens up. I just laugh at her, and say so we will just evict the families that are living there now?
    I would love to live in Cuba the weather is warm all year round but not as hot as Merida.
    It's a nice dream.
    regards,
    Theresa

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    Replies
    1. My dad used to say the same thing about going back and "reclaiming our house" (reclamar la casa). Stew and I went to Cuba about three years ago and visited the former family home in Santa Clara. First, it was a sorry little house--no mansion suitable for a foreign embassy. Second there were two very poor and very old people living in it, whom I'm not about to evict. Instead we gave them money to fix the front windows and wished them a long and healthy life in our house. My dad also had printing show and stationery store and the building is still there but now the government uses it as a warehouse. Good luck getting the government to pay us for the building.

      I've never been to Merida. I've heard it's beautiful and hot and humid. Fair warning: Cuba is also really hot and humid also.

      Let's keep dreaming. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Well, I understand the appeal of Cuba for you two. But if Stew wants to live by the ocean, why are you so far away from it in Mexico? There are any number of possibilities, from the posh and expensive places in Baja or Puerto Vallarta, to something with a positively Cuban-like air like Tlacotalpan. (Admittedly not right on the ocean, but close and on a river.)

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we are close to the bay, but it's nothing like either Cuba or Mexico.

    P.S. It'd be *so* much more fun to get replies to all the comments.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent questions and suggestions! When we were looking for places to retire we did some sniffing around in oceanfront places like Tampa, Sarasota and Puerto Vallarta. The problem was the infernal heat and humidity during the summer, which would be the same problem in Cuba. We were there end of May three years ago, and you'd walk outside after taking a shower and would be soaked in sweat. Unless, of course, we bought a winter-only place, which would be extravagant.
      Neither one of us had even heard of Tlacotalpan, but Stew is on the case and he says the architecture of flora looks very Caribbean. We'll take a drive out there soon. Stew says it should take about 7-8 hours.
      Thanks.

      Al

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  4. I agree with Steve, go for it....only make sure the house has really good guest quarters, ensuite bath, etc. etc. We could even be counted on for really good house warming stuff.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, we'd rent the guest quarters to defray the cost the buying the house. Maybe $150-200 a month, depending on the time of the year. Want to sign up?

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  5. Al, was looking at your blog and did open the real estate link. The photos included, I suppose, the price in CUC. What is CUC…is that the currency and how much is it worth?
    Thanks.
    Fred

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    1. Fred: Cuba has two currencies. One is the regular peso which is how regular Cubans get paid, and which is worth nothing. Then there's CUC, the "convertible peso" I think, which is what foreigners and tourists have to use and whose value is set by the government, which usually calculates that the CUC is worth the same or even more than the dollar. It's crazy.

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  6. Well, if you get a place in Cuba and need a designer.........just sayin'. bartering for a room instead of getting paid has been part of my gig in the past.........just sayin'.
    Someone just asked me yesterday where was the next place that I wanted to go and I answered immediately, "Cuba"!

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