In Cuba, reforms bring cheers but also jeers

Wed Jul 13, 2011 12:21pm EDT
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By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Plumbing supplies salesman Luis Miguel is relieved he will finally be able to sell his Havana apartment and buy another under liberalizing reforms being introduced by Cuban President Raul Castro.

But he is angry over the months he spent struggling with restrictive and labyrinthine bureaucracy as he tried to trade his property under the past strictly controlled housing regime on the communist-ruled island.

"I have been trying for months to 'permutar' (trade homes) and it's been one bureaucratic runaround after another," the 45-year-old said disgustedly, dumping into the garbage a stack of papers relating to the "permuta."

"Now I'm looking for a buyer without so many false controls or having to pay anyone under the table and bribe everyone," Luis Miguel said. Prior to the reforms, Cubans could only swap their dwellings but were barred from buying and selling them.

A raft of reforms lifting limits on individual economic activity was approved at a Communist Party congress in April and have been well received by most Cubans.

But relaxation of curbs that clogged so much of daily life in one of the world's last Soviet-style centralized economies also seems to have uncorked anger over why the prohibitions existed in the first place and over those that remain.

"In the end, all the controls end up controlling nothing," Havana housewife Margarita Rojas said.

"Many are just absurd. What they do is foster corruption and a lot of people make money off them," she said.   Continued...

<p>A woman looks out from her balcony in Havana July 11, 2011. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa</p>