Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Modern History of Cuba by Lisa Valenti, member of the Women & Cuba Issue Committee

[Editor's Note: This post is a reaction to the article "After Castro: What Was Once Theirs," by Anthony DePalma that appeared in The Week in Review section of the Sunday NY Times yesterday. Lisa Valenti is a member of the WILPF Pittsburgh branch and the Women & Cuba Committee of WILPF US.]

When the revolution came to power in 1959, the majority of resources were owned and controlled by foreign interests, the majority U.S. individuals and corporations from the United States owned two-thirds of the arable land in Cuba and controlled most of the commerce. At the same time, political corruption in Cuba was rampant under the US supported dictator General Fulgencio Batista. Fidel Castro led a revolution, which overthrew the dictatorship and declared Cuba for the Cubans, severing its status as a U.S. satellite, or virtual colony, making the island a self-determining, independent, and sovereign nation.

In order to address the profound economic inequities, the new government had to undertake fundamental resource allocation and nationalized all foreign held companies along with fifty percent of the land, including all farms over 400 hectares, 380 firms, 36 sugar mills, and all of the banks, with nationalization and expropriation of foreign owned land holdings.

Cubans with property, mainly the 'managerial class' or 'loyalists' to US interests, fled to the US, fearful of retribution from landless farm workers. However, no personal property or homes were seized where the owners remained, although some farms over 400 hectares, had 'excess' land given to landless farmers to live on and grow food.

The new Cuban government offered compensation for all nationalized resources, but at the declared tax value of the property, which was based on the purchase price, and of course, was undervalued, and thus the US corporations refused to accept, thinking they would, from the safety of Miami mount a counter attack and return Cuba as a client state to the US. (Bay of Pigs, etc.)

Every other country that had property that was nationalized, has been compensated for their property. The US has refused to negotiate.

On the matter of 'individual' homes, no homes were seized unless they were abandoned by their occupants, as was the case of the NYT article. Cuba doesn't let foreigners own property, that would sit around perpetually abandoned and unmaintained, like we do in the U.S., which are blights in our communities. (Although foreigner's may RENT/lease property or enter into 'joint' ventures, developmental partnerships with Cuba.)

Surprisingly, Cuba has one of the highest home 'ownership' ratios in the world. In Cuba, people 'own' their homes, they have paid off small loans and they cannot be evicted for any reason for their entire lives. But they do not own the land the homes sit on, and may not sell them for profit, or to foreigners. All land is retained by the state in public trust. However Cubans have an ingenious method of 'exchanging' homes, not exactly bartering, but moving in ways that allows them some freedom, in obtaining more or less space.

However, housing is in crisis in Cuba because the US blockade does not allow for building supplies to be easily purchased or transported to Cuba, and every year Cuba loses thousands of homes to the many natural disasters, hurricanes, etc.

For people thinking they will get rich on property abandoned by their relatives, they will be sorely disappointed.

by Lisa Valenti. More information on the Women & Cuba Issue Committee of WILPF US can be found on our main website.

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