Here’s another installment of my interview with Tania Vazquez Paldi about her life in Cuba. In this part, we’re discussing housing.
Tania moved from Havana, Cuba to Portland, Oregon about two years ago.
For a short bio of Tania and the first part of our conversation click.
For part 2, click.
Tania: Housing was another Revolution.There were a lot of people, in the countryside mainly, that didn’t have houses. Farmers were moving from place to place because they didn’t own the land. That was one thing that happened in favor of the population. The farmers were given the land and people living in the city, like my parents, they were given housing. Those that helped or fought, they got better housing. So my father, as part of the army, he could get a nice apartment in a nice area.
Kyna: Before the Revolution were they renting?
Tania: Yes, my father, because he’s from the countryside, he was living in a humble house in the countryside.
Kyna: After the Revolution, tenant farmers were given land by the government?
Tania: Yes, land was taken from the land owners and foreign companies in the Agrarian Reform and transferred to the farmers who were already living on the land and working it. They then paid the government to own the land, according to their income and with no interest. Farmers were also subsidized to buy seed and equipment and they had to sell a certain portion of their crops to the government. Today it is the same but with Raul’s reforms, farmers can also sell to hotels and private restaurants. Although, when I was just in Cuba in October, the manager at the Iberostar Hotel in Trinidad told me that the farmers are charging foreign hotels 7-times the normal rate.
Kyna: Is that because sales to private companies are heavily taxed?
Tania: I’m not sure, probably so.
Kyna: Can they sell their land?
Tania: Now they can sell it but not before last year.
Kyna: So, farmers became land owners.
Tania: Yes, the same in the city. I was able to pay off my mother’s house, the one given to my father after the Revolution. They divorced and my father was granted another apartment and he, of course, left the house to us. Later, we swapped that 2-bedroom apartment for a 3-bedroom apartment, with some money for the exchange. We lost the location, though we were in the same center, not as nice a neighborhood as where we used to live, but we got a bigger place.
Kyna: Was that complicated, changing apartments like that?
Tania: It was not but you had to hide from the housing department the fact that you were getting some money in the exchange. You go there; you sign the papers; you do everything legal. Swapping is legal. They call it in Spanish “permutas.” It’s swapping from place to place. You were not allowed to buy.
Kyna: Would you put in a request to change?
Tania: In radio and magazines you can read announcements for swapping. You were allowed to trade exactly, but no money involved. There are certain areas, parks and neighborhoods, were people go who want to swap houses or apartments, kind of a network.
Kyna: You ended up getting some money in the swap because your place was more valuable?
Tania: Yes, the location.
Kyna: Did you have to pay the government to facilitate the swap?
Tania: A very tiny fee, for paperwork.
Kyna: And you had to hide that you got money in the trade?
Kyna: But it’s standard to exchange money, just not official?
Tania: Yes but some people just do furniture, stuff like that, some kind of hook. That still happens, even with the sales.
Kyna: and your father was given another place…
Tania: Because he was committed to the Revolution and to the government, so he was rewarded that way. It was not as good as the one he was given the first time but it was in a good area.