Cuba's government has given its citizens the right to buy and sell their homes for the first time since the 1959 revolution.

The long-awaited reform, published on Thursday in the government's Official Gazette, is one one of the most substantial reforms introduced by Raul Castro, Cuba's president, to liberalize the island's Soviet-style command economy while maintaining the communist system..

Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia, said the move could have broad
ramifications for the Cuban economy, where the cash-strapped government is encouraging the growth of self-employment as it attempts to cut a million jobs from its bloated payrolls.

"The ability to sell houses means instant capital formation for Cuban families. It becomes a source of capital at the
grassroots level," Peters said. "It is a big sign of the government letting go."

The new law is likely to stimulate a new housing market and attract money from Cuban exiles for their family members to buy homes and pieces of property, either for the family or as a bet on Cuba's future, experts said.

Housing needed

The government hopes it will lead to more housing construction, which is desperately needed to address a housing
shortage that officials put at 600,000 units in the island nation of 11 million people.

The Communist Party, Cuba's only legal political party, approved the notion of property sales at a congress in April.
The new rules give people the right to buy and sell, swap, donate or pass their houses on to heirs. They can do the same
with small pieces of land.

Cuba's communist government allows people to own homes, but in theory has not previously permitted their sale for money.

Homeowners who remained on the island after the revolution got to keep their homes, while those many who fled lost theirs to the government.

The swap, or "permuta," of houses has been acceptable for years on an informal black market where Cubans supplemented exchanges with under-the-table money if they were trading a smaller house for a bigger one.

Now, both buyer and seller will have to pay taxes, which will be a welcome new source of income for the government.

Source: Agencies