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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