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 flap 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 opposition.
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.