My email program stripped out the hyphens. Here's a more readable,
correctly hyphened version.
PART TWO - AN AMERICAN IN CUBA (1992)
by Mitchel Cohen
"Rectification" & Housing
What glorious (and funny!) sights I see biking through Havana! The
ironies abound -- the beautiful marble and granite pillars in front
of haciendas, embassies and government houses of Miramar are inlaid
with gold. Imagine Beverly Hills -- except that pinned on rope from
veranda to veranda are colorful towels, underwear and garments of the
working class flapping indelicately like revolutionary banners,
slapping the faces of these former dwellings of the elite. I think
back to the clotheslines that were drawn on pulleys across the
punchball alleyways growing up in Brighton Beach, were I lived til I
was eight years old.
I join a group of teenagers who have fastened a makeshift backboard
and basketball hoop to a tree in front of a marble pillar guarding
one entrance. (I'm afraid I didn't serve my country well in the game,
being a tad out of shape, though fashionably dressed in my Malcolm X
t-shirt and borrowed Brooklyn baseball cap -- thank you, Bill
Livant.) One player is barefoot, but the others sport the latest
sneakers -- gifts, they tell me, from relatives in the U.S. whose
sports teams they avidly follow.
In the early 1990s Cuba began a policy of "rectification," based
largely on a return to principles laid out by Che Guevara, the
Argentinian medical doctor and revolutionary who fought in the Cuban
revolution and who in 1959 became the new government's Minister of
Finance. A recent regulation rekindles Che's approach to financing
"development": It allows renters to apply their monthly rent to the
purchase of their dwellings, interest-free. To avoid class
stratification, the law prohibits a family from owning more than two
houses; it also forbids subletting.
This measure is very popular throughout Cuba. Contrary to some of the
"principles" of free-marketeers in the U.S., no one with whom I speak
feels that the limits placed on private ownership and subletting is
an "unfair government infringement of their freedom." No one in Cuba
complains about "centralized government control" when it is used to
keep rents low. Unlike the U.S., where the "free market" means that
most Americans spend more than half their income on rent and food, in
Cuba rent is limited by law to a maximum of ten percent of income and
food staples are guaranteed.
Nor have working class families in Cuba exhibited the slightest qualm
over the government's confiscation of hundreds of beautiful old
Spanish houses in the Miramar section from the wealthy aristocrats
and businessmen who fled Cuba following the 1959 revolution. Many of
those houses have been turned over to working class people, who now
lay claim to ownership.
For many Cubans, the revolution has meant decent homes for the first
time in their lives. For those who never had homes before, this,
then, is democracy. The former elite, living in Miami and New Jersey,
are in for a rude awakening if they think they'll be able to waltz in
and reclaim the property they'd abandoned. There would be mass armed
Wherever we go we find that Cubans, even those who have strong
criticisms of the government, view it as their revolution. Despite
hardships and severe shortages, and maybe because they have found
ways to overcome them, the Cuban people are very proud of what they
have been able to accomplish.