Saturday, April 23, 2011

An end to classic cars rumbling across Cuba?

An end to classic cars rumbling across Cuba?
By Shasta Darlington, CNN
April 22, 2011 5:11 p.m. EDT

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- They rumble down city boulevards and country roads
across Cuba: 1950s Fords, Buicks and Pontiacs, some in mint condition,
others on the verge of collapse.

But a new law regulating property ownership in Cuba could change that.

At the recent four-day summit of the country's Communist Party,
President Raul Castro announced that the legal framework allowing people
to buy and sell cars and homes was in the "final stages."

What will this mean to the average Cuban?

He didn't provide details, but many Cubans hope it will be the end of
half a century of restrictions. Under current law, they can only freely
buy and sell cars that were on the road in Cuba before Fidel Castro's
1959 Revolution.

Russian Ladas and modern Peugeots and Kias now outnumber the 1950s
classics, but, for the most part, they are owned by the state and cannot
be sold on the free market.

Like many owners, Michel outfitted his '52 Plymouth with a diesel engine
and turned it into a private taxi. But he might be open to selling it.

"When they open a car showroom, I'll get in and try them all and then
I'll tell you what I would do," he says. "I've never driven a modern car."

But he still doesn't think the American classics are in danger.

"If these cars didn't exist, not as many foreigners would come to Cuba
to drive around in them and take pictures."

The changes could be much more significant for Cuba's real estate market.

As it stands, Cubans officially own their homes, but they can't buy or
sell them. They can only exchange them for homes of a similar value.

In reality, a house trade is generally a complicated process involving
illegal agents on the black market and cash. In some cases, buyers will
simply marry the seller, put the house under their name and then divorce.

A group of prospective buyers and sellers who gather in the center of
Havana said the speculation is that the housing law will be published
next month.

"There are people who have money and don't have a house, so the changes
are good," said one man who declined to give his name.

Because of the restrictions, there are also instances where three or
four generations live under the same roof.

It's not clear how the law will work, but perhaps with an eye on the
real estate boom in Russia -- Castro was adamant that he won't allow the
"concentration of property."

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