It is still illegal -- according to both U.S. and Cuban law -- for Americans to purchase property in Cuba, but that hasn’t stopped some from trying. Their window of opportunity first opened in 2011, when Cuba relaxed a decades-long ban on the sale of property in the country, which prevented home and landowners from selling and purchasing property. Until that point, Cubans were only allowed to swap or barter their homes in deals called “permutas” (meaning “exchange”). Once the ban was lifted, Cuban-Americans with family and friends still on the island — and cash to burn — saw a way to reclaim a piece of their homeland. In the few years since, an underground foreign real estate market has flourished without much interference from either country’s government.   

“This is one of those things where the market forces and interests are ahead of the law,” says Pedro Freyre, chair of Akerman LLP's International Practice and an expert on the U.S. embargo on Cuba. “[These buyers] left behind homes and they’re beginning to go back to Cuba, look at these places and for most of them this is not about recovering property but about the emotional connection and the family connection.”

The law that bans foreigners from buying property in Cuba is not changing even after last year’s announcement that U.S. and Cuba would reestablish diplomatic relations. Although restrictions around other kinds of financial transactions were loosened (e.g. Americans can now send $2,000 to Cuban nationals per quarter, up from $500, and use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba), non-Cuban residents are barred from buying property there. There are an estimated 2 million Cubans in America, according U.S. Census data...

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