In Cuba, capitalism thrives on Craigslist-like sites
August 3, 2011 9:51 pm by Ron Buchanan
Even as the Cuban president, Raúl Castro, fumes over stumbling blocks
placed by his own party bureaucracy to economic reforms, the internet is
beginning to remove them one by one.
Castro appears to be meeting resistance from communist diehards – or
more likely old-fashioned stick-in-the-muds – to his proposals that
would allow private ownership in homes and cars, for example, on the
That simply is not a problem for a handful of internet sites that are,
in effect, putting the reforms into practice.
One site, www.sepermuta.com, has been operating for some years,
apparently from a base in Miami, and seems to be tolerated by the Cuban
government. The site is based on the "permuta", or "swap", system.
All housing in Cuba is state-owned but swaps are allowed, as long as no
money is exchanged. It has been an open secret for years in Havana,
however, that often large sums have changed hands under the permuta system.
By allowing home ownership, Castro's reforms will in effect legalise the
black market in housing. But sepermuta.com has been quoting prices for
When beyondbrics checked out sepermuta.com, several of its features were
unavailable because of "database errors", whatever they might be. But
some users' comments were interesting.
One woman wrote that it was a wonderful site and "something I never
imagined that ever existed in Cuba". Where might she have been all those
Another pointed to the reality of any internet project in Cuba: access
to the population is very restricted. "It's really difficult to find
someone where I work who has internet access and lets people like me get
into the site," wrote one.
Yet another reflected the absence, through unfamiliarity, of market
tools that are normal in other countries but not in Cuba. "In Cuba we
don't seem to understand that ads for apartments should specify their
size in floor space," one cybernaut wrote.
"There are ads with five-bedroom apartments that turn out to have only
100 square meters. These must be just cubby holes, not bedrooms," he or
she snorted. "And there are other apartments of 200 square meters with
only two bedrooms. Now that is really spacious but you wouldn't know the
difference from the ads."
However, sepermuta.com is tame by comparison with www.revolico.com, the
market leader in every sense of the word. In Cuban Spanish a "revolico"
is a bit of a mess. The anonymous organisers of the website admit that
it is a mess, "but an organized mess".