A Miami resident, Gustavo Villoldo, recently won a civil suit against the Cuban government for driving his father to suicide and was awarded $1 billion. Villoldo will try to collect the money from frozen Cuban assets but it will not be very easy, given that much of that money has already been awarded to other individuals who won suits against the Cuban government. This story brings to mind a very important topic of interest to Cubans and Cuban exiles: the issue of compensation for property that was expropriated by the Castro regime.
The issue of claims to property in post-Castro or post-communist Cuba is a difficult one to untangle. The Castro regime created a catastrophic mess when it expropriated billions of dollars in property and businesses from Cuban citizens and other property holders. In the fifty years since, Castro has parceled out homes as he wished and redistributed wealth as he saw fit. This fact is central: the Cuban people have endured terrible suffering over the last five decades at the hands of this dictator. So what is to be done with respect to property rights and claims?
The solution to this problem must take into account the most important considerations when dealing with a post-communist Cuba: rights of the Cuban people, revitalization of the Cuban economy, and stability/security. Very simply put: if we allow Cuban exiles to rush back into Cuba after the end of communism and claim properties that were confiscated fifty years ago, this will effectively create a two class system. One class will be the Cuban exile class with roots in the United States and with ownership of significant portions of the Cuban economy and the other class will be that of ordinary Cubans who have absolutely no ownership in today’s Cuba and will not have as much of a say in tomorrow’s Cuba. This situation is unacceptable because it punishes ordinary Cubans who remained on the island… and it will possibly lead to instability and violence. The mere fact that Cuban exiles have long been expecting that their claims be honored and that Cubans on the island have expected the exiles to take back all their land, has made it a real concern for those who want change in Cuba. The exile’s demand for property has only strengthened the communist regime’s position by generating the fear of losing one’s home in ordinary Cubans. Therefore, it must be made clear that in a post-communist Cuba, claims to property cannot be honored simply on the basis of “property rights.” In other words, former property holders with proof of ownership will not be considered to have any right to those properties in any way. The best that they can hope to get is some sort of compensation, which I will address later.
The right to property cannot be regarded as a natural (and negative) right since property rights are by their very nature a contract between an individual and all others. Property is not the natural state of man, i.e. we do not come into this world clutching a deed to a house, we come into this world with self, life, and liberty… that’s it. The right to property is something that comes through negotiation with society. In Cuba, that contract was ruptured by a revolution that became communist and declared that everything belonged to the state. So when a new government is established in Cuba that is based on human rights, liberty, and justice, that government is coming into power with a blank slate in terms of property claims.
The revolution was a game-changer. A New Cuba after communism does not imply the return of the Old Cuba. Decisions over property and wealth distribution must be made on a national level and the vast majority will probably not be too keen on allowing faded pieces of paper held by aging Cuban exiles to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the few… the suffering of the Cuban people was nearly universal and therefore the rebuilding of Cuba requires universal contribution and effort.
On the other hand, while I do not advocate honoring property claims in such a way that harms the regular Cuban population, I do advocate instead some sort of compensation if possible. The Castro regime has created a two-class system in Cuba: the higher communist officials and the regular citizens. Given this two-class system and the “illegal” concentration of properties, privileges, and wealth in the hands of the Castro cadre, the exile community should have the right to go after some or all of these assets as compensation for confiscated property. What is clearly the personal wealth of the ruling clique should be given back to the people whose property was confiscated as compensation. The process should go through courts established specifically for this purpose and only then should claims to property be considered. If no such assets can be clearly identified and/or recovered then zero compensation will go to the former property holders.
The policy is simple: do not punish ordinary Cuban people and award some or all of the assets of Cuba’s oppressors as compensation for those whose property was confiscated by Castro. All of this should be done through the courts of course.
This is simply my view in a nutshell… the varying types of confiscated properties and businesses, the treatment of Castro regime officials after a transition, the actual process of dividing up property among the local Cuban population, etc. are all issues that play a part in a post-communist or post-Castro Cuba and, in truth, the way that a transition takes place will decide a lot of these questions. In the meantime, all we can do is offer up our view of how justice will be best served in a post-communist Cuba.