What seems like a small step to many evidently looks like a giant leap to the Castro brothers. The Cuban dictatorship announced that it will allow citizens and residents to buy and sell residential property. According to the WSJ,
Cuba will allow citizens to buy and sell their homes for the first time in decades, the latest attempt by President Raúl Castro to patch up a crumbling economy after decades of communist rule under his older brother Fidel.
The change will apply only to Cuban citizens and residents and will limit people to one permanent residence and one holiday home, according to the state daily newspaper Granma, which announced the changes in a red banner headline on Thursday.
Communist parties in Asia have held onto their power even as their economies bloom, and many observers wonder why the Castro brothers haven’t done more to make Cuba look like Vietnam or China.The US embargo is part of the problem; it would be hard for Cuba to turn into an export oriented manufacturing giant without access to the US market. But there’s another reason closer to home. The Cuban revolution was and to some extent still is a bitter and personal struggle over the future of the island between Cuban Americans and Cubans tied to the revolutionary state: apparatchiks, army officers and others who have prospered, relatively speaking, under the Castro system.The biggest fear of the Castro crowd is probably that once they open the economy, the Cuban Americans will simply buy the island back, one house, one factory, one resort development at a time. This is a problem the Asian communists don’t face. Taiwan can’t buy mainland China, but Miami could buy a lot of Cuba.From the Castro point of view, economic reforms in Cuba have less return (the embargo) and more risk (Miami buy-back) than similar measures in China and Vietnam. This, more than simple ideological rigidity, is probably why reform in Cuba is taking so long and moving in such baby steps.Opening the housing market seems like an obvious step, but it’s a dangerous one in the Cuban context. Families with relatives in the US will be the ones with the money to buy property and to fix their properties up. Cuba needs a more open economy to develop, but it finds it very difficult to open up without turning to the Cuban American investors who could make the island boom.Given the facts of human life expectancy, the Raul era in Cuba can only be a transition. The question will be whether with the Castro brothers out of the picture the two rival Cuban establishments can cut a deal that allows the revitalization of the country without touching off a new era of social strife? That will require common sense, compromise and realism — qualities not common in Cuban political history before or during the revolution — but there are few countries in the world today better poised to explode into prosperity than Cuba, if the politics can just be worked out.Via Meadia suggestion: members of the next generation from both sides of the Cuban divide should try to get to know one another at quiet encounters far from the journalistic herd. They just might be able to figure something out. For the sake of the long suffering Cuban people, I hope so.