A stone’s throw from the Fábrica de Arte Cubano in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana is a large, century-old Cuban villa. Eighteen years ago, it was dilapidated and nearly empty save for an old landlord who could not afford to keep it up. An American expatriate named Pamela Ruiz saw it and fell in love. Due to Cuban law at the time, she could not purchase it outright, and spent the next eight years on a journey of permuta to acquire the house.
Buying and selling private property was not allowed in Cuba, so all transactions had to occur through trading objects of equal value. Over the course of nearly a decade, Ruiz found somebody with whom to swap her apartment so she could offer a residence that the villa’s landlord thought would be a suitable trade. The landlord, after all, was climbing in years and could no longer ascend the kind of stairs that led to Ruiz’s apartment.