HAVANA — Cuba has issued a pair of surprising free-market decrees, allowing foreign investors to lease government land for up to 99 years — potentially touching off a golf-course building boom — and loosening state controls on commerce to let islanders grow and sell their own fruit and vegetables.
The moves, published into law in the Official Gazette on Thursday and Friday and effective immediately, are significant steps as President Raul Castro promises to scale back the communist state's control of the economy while attempting to generate new revenue for a government short on cash.
"These are part of the opening that the government wants to make given the country's situation," said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who is now an anti-communist dissident.
Cuba said it was modifying its property laws "with the aim of amplifying and facilitating" foreign investment in tourism, and that doing so would provide "better security and guarantees to the foreign investor."
A small army of investors in Canada, Europe and Asia have been waiting to crack the market for long-term tourism in Cuba, built on drawing well-heeled visitors who could live part time on the island instead of just hitting the beach for a few days.
It may also help the country embrace golf tourism. Investment firms have for decades proposed building lavish 18-hole courses ringed by luxury housing under long-term government leases.
Endorsing 99-year property agreements might be a first step toward making some golf developments a reality, but also makes it easy to imagine a Cuban coastline dotted with timeshares, luxury villas and other residences that could serve as second homes.