Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, President Raul Castro is reforming bits and pieces of Cuba’s dysfunctional economy. Thursday he took a larger than usual step. As of Nov. 10, he announced, Cubans will be allowed to buy and sell real estate.
Cubans now can own a house, but can’t sell it. They cannot, in other words, realize any gain from repairs or additions made to their property. From next Thursday on, a Cuban’s house will be a store of wealth. It is an enormous change.
Under Fidel, all land and buildings became the property of the state. As a consequence, buildings began to deteriorate. Why would a person fix up or add to a building if the investment couldn’t be cashed in somewhere down the road? More and more Cubans were forced to move into a dwindling supply of housing. Even divorced couples had to continue to live together because they had no place else to go.
The reform will produce a housing boomlet, giving that desperately poor country a much-needed economic shot in the arm.
Last month, President Raul lifted the ban on car ownership, although it is still almost impossible for a Cuban to buy a new car. Last year, he announced he would eliminate 500,000 government jobs while making it possible for Cubans to take some jobs in the private sector. About 80 percent of the employed population still works for the government, however. Government jobs pay $20 a month. Housing, medical care, education and a basic food ration are “free,” but the level of living is best described as minimal.
The United States could push the process forward by lifting the embargo and removing all restrictions on U.S. travel to and from the island. The U.S. would benefit by selling more grain, poultry, beef and other items. Cubans would benefit from the money brought in by U.S. tourists and having a market for their sugar and other exports.
It would be a win-win for all involved; for all, that is, except the Florida politicians who win election on anti-Castro (Fidel, that is), anti-Communist rhetoric, which is based on things as they were 50 years ago.
It is long past time for America’s thinking on Cuba to get up to date.
— Emerson Lynn, jr.