From January 12, 2012
New Property Rights in Cuba? Sort of…
This past April Raul Castro presided over the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. Originally these planning events were scheduled to be held every five years, but the Castros either lost count or lost interest in engaging the Cuban people and a while ago fell several five year periods behind. Anyway…
The simple holding of this event was reported on by many media outlets as a sign of the Castros looking to reform what is a staggeringly bad economy.
But as I have often wrote in my blog at www.mojitonovel.com, Cuba is an isle of lies. Old people lie because they have always had to, to survive. Young Cubans lie because it's the only thing they know. And the Castros lie just about every time they move their lips, because they always have.
At the Congress, Castro the younger made a series of announcements that, if they could be taken at face value, would indicate a drastic lean toward an open market economy for the emerald island of the Caribbean.
But this is Cuba, where nothing is as it seems.
The promised reforms included a private business development initiative, a transition of leadership in Cuba's institutions, more opportunities for blacks and, of interest to the participants in CREOPoint, the right to buy and sell real estate.
President Raul Castro makes the new property ownership and transfer initiative sound easy. And in military dictatorships, usually government policy is easily implemented since there’s no opposition. But in the case of real property, there are legal barriers that a sweep of a dictator’s magic wand cannot eliminate.
Currently all ownership of property in Cuba is ultimately controlled by the Interior Ministry and the Cuban Army. Which really means the Castro family. Cubans are given rights to live in houses based upon their place in the political hierarchy, their history of sacrifice for the revolution, or as a survivor's benefit.
Which is a problem. Ask a million or so people living south of the Florida Panhandle and north of the Straits of Florida. The property that their family left behind a half century ago still belongs to them. Period.
If the Castros ever die and Cuba "normalizes" its relationship with the USA, then it can be expected that almost all of the formerly freehold property will be pursued for compensation or return by ex-patriot Cubans. Meanwhile, the family members who have occupied this property for two generations can be expected to not be in a very big hurry to move out when the time comes.
Jose Palli, a property title expert in Miami of Cuban descent, has written a series of excellent articles on these ownership legal issues in Cuba (http://wwti.net/newproprightsincuba.html). He points to the historical efficacy of the land registry system in Cuba, pre-Castro and suggests that close ties with Spain may lead to rapid re-establishment of a land registry system.
His view (as expressed in an email exchange) is that the ultimate resolution to getting clear title to property in post-Castro Cuba will be found in laws there that existed pre-Castro. My view is that the American demand for resolution will be for litigation under USA laws. I guess we’ll see. Both of us agree (I think) that the resolution will not be cheap and it will not be easy.
Brian French is a consultant in Toronto.
President Obama shook hands with Raul Castro, the leader of a country that denies its citizens human rights.
He sent the Churchill bust back but shook hands with Raul Castro?
My Canadian friend Brian Lloyd French, author of "Mojito", wrote "The island of lies" a couple of years ago:
"Lies are a permanent part of life on the Castros' island paradise lost.
Younger Cubans have to lie about their opinions of the government, its leadership and their opinion of the United States. Old Cubans lie about Fidel Castro because those lies are the only opinion they've ever been allowed to have.
The Cuban politburo lies about everything it does, and just about everything everyone else does; especially the USA.
The Castros spew lies constantly but are so absent from reality that they seem to believe them."
Why would President Obama elevate a liar like Raul Castro?
Click here for my chat with Brian, and specially his thoughts on how black Cubans are discriminated against in the island:
The Castro/Obama "handshake" with Brian Lloyd French, author of "Mojito".....Listen in now athttp://t.co/oe1rYuPYEJ. #BlogTalkRadio
"It is very unlikely we will know who the true successor to Raul Castro will be until the Cuban government is forced to make an official announcement. But there is one thing we can be reasonably certain of: Barring the long-awaited fall of Cuba’s dictatorial regime, when the old guard passes away, Cuba will continue to be run by a dictator with Castro blood in his veins. "
I speculated that a few months ago on successors, mostly on the basis of there being free elections. But everything points to them trying to keep it in the family. I doubt that Raul or any other Castro other than Fidel could maintain the heavy control of Cuba that has existed for 54 years for very long. So any coronation will likely not last very long.
I just returned from Havana and our tourist hotel was filled with people wearing Obama TShirts and hats and experiencing an "educational exchange" - not on a tourist junket - in a $240 / night hotel room.
One comment was telling. "This city must be conserved!" said one pasty Obama voter to everyone in the lobby...
My question - what does she want preserved? The underage prostitution (of both sexes)? The grinding poverty? The deteriorating buildings and holes in the sidewalks and eternal renovation projects? Maybe the beating and arrest of a dissident who was brave enough to stand in front of the Capitolo and complain about Cuba's lack of human rights?
The older Cubans who adore Fidel from the old days are dying off, the burocratos who depend on the status quo are afraid of a free Cuba, the parents want a better life for their children, and the young? The young want change.
It will not come from any appointee from any Castro, but from free elections as Fidel promised in 1959. Just the first of decades of lies.
People who follow human rights in Cuba know that Yoani Sanchez, noted dissident and activist for rights for resident Cubans has been allowed to leave. But will she come back, and what then?
At a media conference last week Rio de Janeiro, in her first legal public statement in many years, she responded to questions in a well balanced and diplomatic way. The old Yoani, the firebrand, never called for a middle ground, a rapprochement with the Castros, but the total dissolution of the Cuban faux government. She wanted the Castros gone yesterday.
But in her presser of last week, she sounded like a politician.
I had the pleasure of meeting Yoani about five years ago and she impressed me as a solid, impressive, understated person worthy of respect. I had followed her since she had started blogging in about 2005 when I was working on my novel, "Mojito!"
She has that thing that most of our politicians lack: gravitas.
Cubans, for at least a decade, have commonly used the phrase, "If Fidel dies". But what if he finally does and his brother decides to retire to Miami? (As if…)
Cuba probably has the legislative ability to have a true democracy and could probably have a freely elected national assembly with a little tweaking. Could Yoani Sanchez assume the head of the current Congress, and start the reforms that are needed to bring Cuba into the 21st Century?
She is certainly more able and democratically minded than Noriega or Chavez. She is a woman who might better understand the cost to Cuban families of the dreadful government of the last 54 years.
As far as her views on foreign policy, and only one foreign government really matters, her statements at the presser last week seem to indicate that she would be a Cuba first leader, not a sop to the USA Government, a surrogate for Cuban Exiles or a younger version of the current overlordship in Cuba.
On the trade and investment embargo by the USA, she quite wisely states it must come down. Has it been successful? Well, it successfully elected at least one USA President. But unless one has the lifespan of a tortoise, it took an awful long time. And like the old joke, the operation was successful but the patient died.
Cuba was free to trade, and did, with every country in the world but the USA. But, really, did it matter that Cuba had a million Canadian tourists a year? Only the USA can count in providing Cubans true economic growth. For Cuba, with anyone as a President, open trade with the USA is a necessity for recovery.
Sanchez is smart enough to stay out of the Guantanamo debate by leaving it for the courts to decide. The USA military base is, in the bigger scheme of things, not all that worthy of a lot of energy from someone looking to deal with abject poverty and a complete lack of rights of free speech or association in their anticipated domain.
Surprisingly she spoke in favour of the release, by the USA, of the so called "Cuban Five". These are remnants of the "Wasp Network" spy ring now serving time for espionage activities, particularly against Cuban exiles. But she doesn't appear to favour their release on the base of innocence, but on the basis of practicality. They are an effective (but expensive) propaganda tool for the Castro regime and allow some deflection of the human rights crimes of the Castros themselves.
Sanchez is launching her speaking and appearance tour complementary to the screening in Rio de Janeiro of a documentary on Cuban human rights abuses and will be proceeding on to Europe and then New York City.
When she returns to Cuba will she continue to be on the outside looking in, or follow a destiny to eventually become head of state? And, if not her, then who?
Raul Castro, perhaps the least of the three Castro brothers, a few months ago promoted young Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, to the Politburo and recently Miguel Diaz-Canel to the first Vice Presidency. These were seen by many observers as perhaps an indication to suggest Raul's support for the accession of either to the top job. But these of these appointments, with the taint of their allegiance would be shoe-ins in a free election.
But when an election comes, conceivably, Sanchez could be campaigning against two other women for Raul's job, the current President's daughter, Ana Maria Machado, and Josefina Vidal: Cuba's director of USA affairs.
The ultimate challenge Sanchez will face is that she is far better known outside of Cuba than within. And the Cuban Government, which really only exists effectively as a propaganda ministry, is likely to direct its entire tool box to make sure that Sanchez doesn't stand a chance.
© Brian Lloyd French 2013
From the "Don't let Perfect be the Enemy of Good" file.
Perfect would be having the Castros and their closest allies die (which isn't a non-given, given their age across the board) and a democracy take control of Cuban affairs (however, this will take at least a decade to disassemble the current state of affairs.) Anya Landau French (no relation) has a clear-eyed look at re-configuring USA / Cuban relations.
Is Kerry the guy? I doubt it. He's only ever been in it for his ego, and ego won't win the day for this.
"As much as many in the Cuban government (particularly the diplomatic corps) want to reduce tensions with the United States and finally make real progress on long-standing grievances held by both sides, they aren’t desperate for the big thaw. Many U.S. analysts, including in government, speculate that this is because Cuba’s leaders don’t really want to change the relationship, that strife serves their needs better than would the alternative. That could be so, but there’s also a hefty amount of skepticism and pride on the Cuban side, as well. After so many decades and layers of what Cuba calls the U.S. blockade, Cubans are unwilling to have the terms of any ‘surrender’ dictated to them. In fact, they are bound and determined that there will be no surrender. They would argue, what is there to surrender but their government’s very existence, something the leadership obviously isn’t going to put on the table."
Anyone who wishes...
Mojito is available for reviews on Goodreads.
If you wish (in a few hours) you can also download an ebook excerpt.
Mojito! is fictional, so none of the plot is based on reality. Many of the personalities in Mojito! really exist - but not in their Mojito forms. There is no mafia in Havana - and if there is, I didn't meet it's chief. I modeled the Manuel (not his real name) character's personality around a friend there who speaks excellent English so I reinvented him as a main character who drives much of the plot. But he's not a criminal and not dangerous. Since Mojito! was written CNN has opened a news bureau there, so Kate really wouldn't need to go down to Cuba to do a story. Joel is based on a real character I met over a decade ago that I did help out with milk. A couple of years ago I ran into him again; he was body guarding a foreign rich guy and has grown to be fully able to look after himself and his family. There is no CIA guy (that I know of) in Cuba, but Hadrian Felix is based upon a buddy's father who was with the Latin Section of the CIA for many years. Damian Merrarro died a few years ago of an infection he got from an operation. Ronaldo the helicopter pilot is based on a boxer I met.
Call me a skeptic (and a cynic)... In Cuba, nothing is ever as it appears. When I look at this, here's what might I see. 1) The Castros are keen on reducing its population of dissidents 2) Fewer people means less in allowances 3) There will be fees collected from travellers 4) Fidel is out of the picture (dead or dying) 5) Raul knows that he is not popular enough to hold things together by himself, he needs to change or be changed.
Brian Lloyd French
I am a great admirer of the strength and talents of Cuban people and will share some of my experiences here.