The liberation of Cuba has begun. Not by invasion, but from within. Communism has failed, and the people of Cuba are demanding freedom. Including the revolutionary right to buy and own their own homes.
Fifty-two years ago, Fidel Castro, posing as a reformer, seized power in a revolution promising “change,” social justice and a redistribution of wealth. He attacked the rich, the owners, the employers. He was celebrated in leftist circles around the world as a herald of a new and better society. His 1960 visit to New York set off waves of joy and adulation.
When Castro plastered the walls of Havana with the slogan, “Socialism or Death,” most Cuban employers fled, often with only the clothes on their backs. Factories, farms, businesses, homes, cars with tail fins—all left behind, all confiscated by the state. Private property was abolished. All would be equal. Cubans who stayed realized how equally poor they all quickly became.
For longer than most Americans have been alive, Castro and his Communist elite have controlled every aspect of every Cuban’s life. They turned one of the most beautiful countries on Earth, “The Pearl of the Antilles,” blessed with fertile soil, abundant water and numerous natural resources, and inhabited by some of the happiest, most fun-loving people in the world, into one big gray poor gulag.
Since the Castro revolution, the Free World has surged ahead, producing a higher standard of living for more people than any period in human history. Wealth in free countries was not “spread around,” it was created and multiplied, causing what Jack Kennedy called a rising tide to lift all boats. Many thousands of Cubans, fleeing Castro’s tyranny, have prospered in freedom in the U.S. and other countries.
Modern communications have made it inevitable that despite state censorship, Cubans increasingly recognize the failure of communism, that confiscation has not produced “fairness” and that the state-run economy has not produced prosperity. They recognize and demand change. The kind of change that toppled the failed Communist states all over Europe. The kind of change that is bringing prosperity to China.
Fidel nearly died in a botched operation by Cuban doctors (remember Michael Moore’s praise of the Cuban state-run medical system?) and had to call in a Spanish doctor from a private clinic in Madrid to save his life. Ditto Hugo Chavez. His cancer was treated in Cuba, but by private doctors from Spain. Cubans saw and reacted. “Socialism or Death” for the common folk, but free-market doctors for the Communist elite.
The everyday Cuban has long depended on an illegal black market to survive. Doctors drive cabs, engineers fix 1950s cars, illegal restaurants spring up in a cook’s living room, money changes hands so someone can illegally get a better apartment, college grads wait tables at the few tourist hotels allowed by the regime. People get by doing what they have to do.
In the last few years, Cuba has allowed more foreign investment, primarily to develop tourism, but more recently to exploit offshore oil deposits in the Gulf of Mexico that Americans have been forbidden to touch. More Cubans are coming into contact with foreigners. More jobs are being created by foreign investment.
Cubans want more. The Castro regime is on the defensive. Self-employment rules have been loosened in the last year and cell phone ownership is increasing. Buying and selling cars will soon be allowed. The dam is cracking, the river of freedom will be restored.
Starting at the end of this year, the regime has promised that Cubans can buy and own their own homes.
Private property is the cornerstone of capitalism. It’s the talk of Havana. After making the promise and raising expectations, the regime is widely predicted to hem in private ownership with regulation and taxation. New owners might be limited to one home or apartment, forbidden to resell for a number of years, and be required to live there full-time.
Nonetheless, in a country where all the land and buildings are owned by the Castro State, the restoration of the concept of private property ownership is a big (Biden) deal.
A (freer) market in housing faces challenges created by 60 years of communism. Private classified ads, for example, are forbidden. How do you let buyers or renters know you want to sell or rent? Brokers, cell phones and pads in hand, comb the streets of Havana listing availabilities and preparing to put buyers and sellers, renters and landlords, together. Wait until they get the Internet!
The government-owned housing stock is a wreck, with too many people jammed into small, deteriorating units. There is no construction industry, no materials industry. As in other collapsing socialist states, such industries will spring up to meet demand if the regime allows it. They will allow it because the Cubans will demand it.
Financing the recreation of a freer property market is the easy part.
Those prosperous Cubans who fled Cuba already legally pump more than $1 billion a year into the Cuban economy (and black market) through remittances to family members. Cubans from Miami, hearing of the potential for private ownership, have already staked out their favorite homes, farms and apartments to buy either directly or through family members.
Defenders of the Castro regime, especially the Left in the U.S., criticize the new reforms. “Experts” fear, says the Los Angeles Times, a re-stratified society, the reemergence of the haves/have notes divide, the horror of “gentrification.” Yup, freedom and opportunity could be a downer.
For the people of Cuba, these reforms are but a taste of the life they yearn for, the life of hope and opportunity they see people enjoying in other countries, a life forbidden to them by the Castro regime for all these years.
What must the average Cuban, who has experienced not a “lost decade” but a lost lifetime, think of the U.S., the beacon of freedom and prosperity, turning now to national health care, government confiscation of private property, our President demonizing wealth creators and employers as the evil “rich.” Making the same mistakes, falling for the same propaganda that has enslaved Castro’s Cuba.
Pay attention to Cuba. Know its history under Castro. Or be condemned to repeat that history here.