Cuba close to passing law for golf resort construction
After nearly two years of waiting, with ready-to-go blueprints and
agreements with joint venture partners in the drawer, at least three
golf course resort developers may soon be able to go ahead with
The government is “taking the last steps” on long-expected laws and
regulations that would allow the construction and sale of golf course
residences to foreigners, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero announced
during the opening of the International Tourism Fair (FIT 2013) in Varadero.
Marrero said that the government is in talks with 10 foreign consortia.
With some, “we have already signed, or we are about to sign letters of
intent for possible new developments in various cities and tourism
destinations of the country,” he said.
Plans for four golf resorts collectively worth more than $1 billion have
been ready to go since 2011. In summer of that year, Cuban officials
concluded negotiations with four foreign consortia — Britain’s Esencia
Group, British Virgin Island-based Coral Capital Group, Canada’s
Standing Feather International, and a Spanish investor group that plans
to build a golf resort at Las Alturas in western Cuba — the Council of
Ministers approved their respective projects, and the foreign companies
formed joint ventures with Cuban state company Palmares S.A. Another
Spanish developer, La Playa Golf & Resorts S.L., is planning to build a
mega-resort on the western tip of the island, but it apparently hasn’t
advanced as far as the other four groups.
In fall 2011, the government published some regulations regarding
importing and exporting of personal goods and cars by foreigners and the
visa status of foreign real estate owners, but other regulations have
still been pending, holding up the projects.
Decree-law 273, published in the Gaceta Oficial No. 33 in 2011, reverted
a decade-old de facto freeze on foreign residential construction after a
short-lived experiment with condominium projects in Havana. Decree-law
273 modifies articles 221 and 222 of the 1987 Surface Law in Cuba’s
civil code. Article 221 now stipulates that the state must issue a
“surface right” title for each property subject to usufruct, including
information about the property’s limits, conditions of use, and the time
period, structure, nature and destination of the buildings or the
specific activity planned for the property. Article 222 specifies that
state-owned land can be leased for up to 99 years; stipulates that, in
case the land is leased for a shorter period, the contract can be
extended to up to 99 years; and states that the state can sell
properties to Cuban companies planning to build tourism-related homes or
apartments on the land.
Even though Cuban laws now allow foreign developers and condo buyers
99-year leasehold arrangements of the land, one of the consortia has
said that Cuban officials agreed to let it sell residences in
perpetuity. Most of the rules are politically delicate, involving issues
such as whether Cubans or Cuban Americans will be allowed to buy
properties, how the government can avoid flipping, and how foreign
property owners will be able to import, export or sell their personal
One of the four golf projects entered limbo in fall 2011, when Cuban law
enforcement arrested the principal of Coral Capital Group Ltd., which
had planned to build a resort just east of Havana, and closed the
company’s Havana office amid an investigation into corruption.
In his speech at FIT, Marrero said that a UK-based group formed a joint
venture with Palmares, to build an 18-hole golf course and 750
apartments, 200 villas and town homes, a boutique hotel, and a retail
center near Varadero. The size matches Esencia’s La Carbonera plan.
The government is planning to build “at least” 11 residential golf
course projects throughout the island, Marrero said. Last year, tourism
officials said that Cuba was planning to build 13 golf courses by 2020;
two years earlier, Marrero announced plans for “up to” 16 golf courses.
The tourism minister also announced that Cuba plans to add 20,000 hotel
rooms over the next seven years, for a total of 85,000 units on the
island. This year, four new hotels will open on Cayo Santa María, Cayo
Coco, in Vadadero and Trinidad; eight more will begin expansion or
construction in 2013 in the northern keys of Cuba. In Havana, the
historical Capri hotel will reopen this year, and three more hotels are
expected to be built in the historical center.
For the first time, the tourism ministry also highlighted the existence
of privately owned rooms and restaurants. According to Marrero, 6,115
privately owned rooms are available, in addition to 950 private homes.
He also mentioned 2,242 privately owned restaurants.
Marrero said state travel agencies and tour operators for the first time
will offer privately owned rooms as well. Owners and employees of these
businesses will also be allowed to attend tourism schools in Cuba.