In a number of articles and opinion columns about the “real estate market” in present day Cuba published recently by several media outlets, a number of assertions are made that, even if truthful, fail to be relevant once we understand the reality –hard to grasp for many of US, granted- that provides its context to Cuban real property rights.
This lack of understanding is also perceptible in other fields in which the December 17th announcements resulted in new feverish interactions between Cuba & US, even in the negotiations between both nations: our “American” side seems unable to look at things from Cuba’s perspective, incapable of putting ourselves in Cuba’s shoes, bent as we are on changing or conditioning that reality which is the context to everything we are discussing with the Cuban side. Unless we learn to understand that reality –grounded in over half a century of decision making by those “in possession” of Cuba, whether we like those decisions or not- and work with it, said interactions and negotiations will be endless and probably fruitless.
Some of the “stars” among our real estate developers have visited Cuba and returned with a mostly negative view of their own chances of venturing into the until now forbidden island and seeding its coasts –Havana’s Malecòn included- with sky-scrappers, at least not until the Castro brothers are both out of the picture.
It’s up to them, obviously, but a correct reading of Cuba’s reality would tell them that Cuba’s institutions are not geared towards the kind of high priced speculative real estate building business our real estate developing “stars” crave for. And these institutions are the way they are not just simply because of the two elderly rulers who have called the shots for 56 years and counting. Those institutions are, to a greater or lesser extent, supported by a substantial number of Cuba’s inhabitants who, even though they may be critical of many aspects of their own society, are not eager to lay a welcome mat to all the excesses of a society not their own.
Many of the young professionals who will be calling the shots in Cuba for some time after the Castro brothers are gone will tell you they want to preserve housing in Cuba as something easily accessible to all Cubans, and refuse to simply copycat what we Floridians allow to be done to our Brickell Avenue, Sunny Isles, or other “landmarks” of our real estate emporiums, where foreigners set the prices at a level that is unreachable for most of our salaried workers and young professionals.
Some of my fellow “dirt lawyers”, borrowing a page from our real estate standard practices booklet, complain there is no way to determine who owns what piece of real estate in Cuba, and cry over the unavailability of title insurance in the island. Few regular people I know truly understand what title insurance is all about –and I mean here in the US-, but they still pay for it since it is but a pittance, compared to other “closing costs”, and no bank will lend money without it. We real estate lawyers love it too because it is both our safety net and a very consistent and reliable source of income.
Well, I just attended a Hemispheric conference in Havana where the Cuban land title registration system was showcased and I can assure you all, my dear colleagues, that it is not that difficult to find out who owns what under Cuba’s laws and using its Registro Pùblico de la Propiedad or recording office. So much so that I have a feeling that our title insurance industry, beleaguered not too long ago in the midst of the foreclosure crisis referred to as “mortgage-gate” in Spain and other countries with a much better land title recording system than ours (most countries can brag of that, which is one of the reasons title insurance is an “only in America” type of experience) could well be among the first to take risks with Cuban real estate, issuing policies to American buyers of houses and condos in Cuba, once the ridiculous vestiges of the Cold War era (Helms, Burton, Torricelli et al) are gone.
Another topic recently effervescent –I call it the Alka-Seltzer, because it bursts and fizzles every once in a while- is the one related to the claims (many of them comprising real property in Cuba), certified by the US Government or otherwise, of those fellows whose assets were expropriated or nationalized in the early stages of the Cuban Revolution. To me, any future resolution of those claims will, of necessity, involve a political agreement in which the Cuban people will play the capital role, even if Cuba itself may well be de-capitalized at the time that agreement is reached. The laws (and I mean the Cuban laws) resulting from that agreement will be the ones under which those cases will eventually be resolved, and chances are those laws will resemble those presently in force in Cuba regarding expropriation, nationalization, confiscation, abandonment, usucapiòn and other legal institutions that will be adjusted to reflect said political agreement.
Because you see, the key to understanding Cuba’s reality in all its breadth is to realize that Cuba’s laws, good or bad, like them or not, are passed in Cuba, not in Washington DC nor in the independent sovereign state of Florida. We in Miami, and all our elected politicians, may rant all we want about it, but that is just the way it is. And it has always been like that; despite our pretense it could be otherwise. In fact, it is precisely that delusional pretense that has kept things as they are for more than half a century.