Can we build it? Yes, we can!

I’m not a total ignoramus about Cuba, but I didn’t know that for almost 50 years, people there have largely been forbidden to build houses for themselves (or anyone else), or buy and sell them, giving rise to bizarre and desperate efforts by the citizenry.*

It’s sad that it took a chronic and severe housing shortage and much misery before something was done, but Raul Castro is at least doing it now, after earlier steps to allow people to take possession of state-owned homes.

Along with finally allowing computers (!) and mobile phones (!!) to be purchased by individuals, liberalising (in minor ways) agriculture and transport and wages, some decentralisation, even a teensy relaxation of the policing of political criticism, it seems that Raul Castro is definitely taking steps in the right direction.

I doubt important things like freedom of speech, of movement, of association, democratic rights and the like will be forthcoming soon, however. More likely the leadership will attempt some China-esque reform of the economy, but not the polity.

Cubans have valiantly tried to make their revolution work, and have chalked some successes, but mostly failures. They know it’s time to give up on the socialist mirage. Looks like their leaders are finally, slowly, waking up too.

* It exemplifies a theme or pattern I see repeated in many ways and places – trying to stop or distort market forces just means people find a way around them, usually at huge social cost. I’ll return to that idea another time.

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5 Responses to Can we build it? Yes, we can!

  1. Peg says:

    Cuba is a poor country. All housing stock is owned by the State and all occupants pay 10% of their income as rent. Building of homes has proceeded as fast as was possible, using the labour of those employed eslewhere under supervision of builders, as part of their voluntary contribution to the country. Your Dad helped build homes for those in his workplace under this scheme.
    You have a minimal understanding of ‘much misery’ in relation to Cuba (especially in comparison with other countries in Latin America) – every child goes to school and can go on to tertiary education, every child has excellent health care for life, all of which is a right (that is, free). Of course the place isn’t perfect, and many mistakes have been made, but the circumstances/histories of each country are really so different it is difficult to impose values acquired in another.
    I tire of the repetitive rhetoric about freedom of speech etc – give me some examples to work with, and temper that with understanding of the reality of reponsibilities towards others in any social grouping, the ways in which we are all obliged to consider the collective good – in ‘democracies’ too – as well as individual rights.

  2. Mark Hill says:

    Peg you are simply repeating the propaganda out of Havana.

    Cuba’s health care is pitiful. Nations where education isn’t free afford the same opportunities with better quality programmes and without the fear of oppression and censorship in research.

    As for the “practicalities” of civil rights you shill for, Cuba systematically victimises gays, treats blacks and second class citizens and a justice system completely foreign to either the common or civil law ideal of a fair and due process.

  3. Jarrah says:

    “Cuba is a poor country.”

    Yes. Partly because of the embargo, mostly because of socialism. The standard of living is around the same level as 1989, before the USSR collapsed, and the economy is in serious trouble.

    “Building of homes has proceeded as fast as was possible”

    Maybe as fast as central planning could do it, but not as fast as possible. To be fair, the recent hurricanes have smashed a lot of houses, exacerbating the problem.

    “You have a minimal understanding of ‘much misery’ in relation to Cuba”

    I was referring specifically to the dire housing situation (both quantity and quality). But the misery goes further than that. Why else do Cubans want to leave so badly?

    “every child goes to school and can go on to tertiary education, every child has excellent health care for life, all of which is a right (that is, free).”

    Cubans are well educated and primary health care is very good, mortality levels are low. But that’s about it as far as achievements go. And it is unsustainable, as shown by the decreases in school enrolments, increases in unemployment, stagnating wages, deserting skilled workers, and obviously the actions of the Cuban government itself – like the decisions through the ’90s to make small concessions to capitalism, and these latest changes.

    Even prior to the USSR’s collapse, the socialist model in Cuba was “becoming inoperative” according to a study by the UN in 1997. Let’s be clear – Cuba has been kept afloat by numerous small liberalisations, and outside subsidies like Venezuela’s contributions. The only way to improve is to make further reforms, and Cubans know this.

    “it is difficult to impose values acquired in another.”

    Are the values really so different? The widespread black market, the agitation for reform both economic and political, the exodus, all point to Cubans valuing things that the socialist revolution has failed to provide.

    “the collective good”

    How do you define that?

    “give me some examples to work with”

    From Human Rights Watch:
    “Although in theory the different branches of government have separate and defined areas of authority, in practice the executive retains clear control over all levers of power. The courts, which lack independence, undermine the right to fair trial by severely restricting the right to a defense…The government also imprisons or orders the surveillance of individuals who have committed no illegal act, relying upon provisions that penalize “dangerousness” (estado peligroso) and allow for “official warning” (advertencia oficial)…It remains one of the few countries in the world to deny the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons.”

    From Amnesty’s 2006 report:
    “Prisoners of conscience continue to be arrested and sentenced for their peacefully held views…Human rights activists, political dissidents and trade unionists were harassed and intimidated. Such attacks were frequently perpetrated by quasi-official groups…in collusion with members of the security forces…Freedom of expression and association continued to be under attack. All legal media outlets were under government control and independent media remain banned…Human rights defenders also faced intimidation and politically motivated and arbitrary arrests.”

    Censorship is rife, like this sad episode:

    More on Cuban human rights here:

  4. Legal Eagle says:

    That housing thing is MAD. I presume the aim is to stop capitalist profit from transfers of real estate? But it just drives the market underground, of course…

  5. Jarrah says:

    Profit is eeeevil, dontcha know?

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