HAVANA TIMES, Dec 28 — The Raul Castro government ends the year with kept promises and outstanding debts. The “opening” of the housing and automotive markets was well received by Cubans, but many continue to await immigration reform and modifications to the Family Code.
The opening of bank loans for self-employed workers and small farmers was a cardinal measure for the development of these production and service sectors, which are being called on to occupy half the nation’s workforce.
Days before the convening of parliament, the foreign media claimed that Raul Castro would announce the new immigration policy. Nevertheless there was only one paragraph devoted to this, with him simply saying this would advance gradually.
Moreover, his message also seemed to be directed to his own daughter, Mariela Castro, who for years has tried unsuccessfully for parliament to approve a new Family Code recognizing a few basic rights of the LGBT community in Cuba.
A limited real estate market
The opening of the housing market — closed since 1959 — unlatched a floodgate of transactions. In less than a month, 364 purchases, 1,579 donations and 409 swaps were made. Until that measure was approved, Cubans were only able to buy homes from the government or through a cumbersome swapping process.
There was a huge black market in which properties were bought and sold through legal chicanery, corruption, false titles, fake marriages and multiple swaps – all tolerated by crooked government officials who earned hefty sums.
In any case, the island’s housing market is now subject to rules intended to prevent speculation. The main one is that Cubans are only entitled to have only one house of residence and another vacation house on the beach or in the countryside.
3,500 cars sold
The opening of the automotive market generated much internal debate, with more than a few politicians reluctant to accept the free buying and selling of cars, which explains why it took so long to be approved and why it was done in such a limited manner.
Even if they have the money, most Cubans are still unable to buy a new car from a dealership, like anyone else in the world; they have to be satisfied with the purchase of used cars from private owners.
Suddenly the Vehicle Registration offices began finding out what cars belonged to whom, and they issued roughly 15,000 titles in the names of the true property owners and processed 3,500 purchases.
As the year comes to an end, certain service enterprises that formerly belonged to the state were converted into cooperatives; likewise, bank loans began to be extended to self-employed workers and small farmers, two measures aimed at strengthening those sectors.
Without loans, self-employed workers cannot compete with common criminals and corrupt officials, who are the majority of those who have accumulated capital for investment in the start-up or expansion of private businesses.
Gradual immigration reform
Referring to the terrain of immigration, Raul Castro said there would be “gradual changes required in this complex theme, without ceasing to evaluate in all their integrity the pros and cons of each step we take.”
The main problem to solve is the policy with respect to the million professionals who are the main source of hard currency coming into the country through their work abroad. Most receive extremely low-wages and would be potential emigrants were the borders to open.
Raul Castro acknowledged that “more than a few consider the implementation of a new immigration policy to be urgent,” but he also said that Cuba suffers from the “interventionist and subversive policies of the US government, always on the lookout for any opportunity.”
It’s true that Washington does have a policy of preferential visas to lure Cuban doctors who are working in third countries. Likewise, by the mid-1960’s half of the doctors had left the island and some 14,000 children were sent to Miami without their parents.
The LGBT community
Again the pen remains in the inkwell for the approval of the new Family Code, which encompasses the recognition of the rights of the LGBT community, including the right to consensual unions, an act that is not a marriage but involves legal recognition.
The main driver is the president’s daughter, Mariela Castro, who heads the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex). The LGBT community has spent years going before parliament presenting the proposal, with it not being rejected but nor achieving the deputies’ approval.
But the work of Cenesex has not been in vain. In January the party will approve a document that aims to “confront prejudices against race, religious belief and sexual orientation” that limit the right to “hold public office, participate in political and mass organizations and in the nation’s defense.”