Monday, June 18, 2007

Tu casa es mi casa!

Is it ridiculous to talk about Cubans’ fear that they could one day be evicted from their homes by exiles returning to claim their former properties? (See, for example, “Where in the World is Matt Lauer's Integrity?” – scroll down here.) Does such talk simply amplify Cuban government propaganda over what is really a non-issue?

At one level, the answer is clearly “yes.” Spend a little time among Cuban Americans, and you find that there are very few who think of returning to Cuba to repossess their former homes and evict their inhabitants. I’ll bet that a poll would show that a large majority would like to visit and see what their parents built and left behind – but no more.

And recall that the late Jorge Mas Canosa, who was virtually a spokesman for the community, recognized the fear of people on the island; he advocated compensation for lost homes and opposed any claims settlement scheme that would dislodge people from their homes. Clearly, he realized, as do nearly all Cuban Americans today, that Cubans are not interested in any change at all if it begins with them losing their homes.

But the fear, even if based on a small and shrinking segment of Miami opinion, is real. A reader commented here that after talking to ordinary Cubans for a day, it is clear to him that they are “ten times more scared of Miami Cubans than the beard.”

And that fear is not necessarily irrational. Last month I linked to a story about a Florida International University website called, that is sort of like Google Earth. It is billed as a “public service of Florida International University sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the United States Geological Survey, and IBM.” It is worth checking out. (See NPR news story here.)

The site’s Havana page features aerial views plus ground-level photos of houses and buildings taken by volunteers. If you scroll down, there’s a link that allows you to file a property claim and supporting documentation with FIU’s “NASA Regional Applications Center,” which is not a judicial body. The claims will apparently be saved and sent to the “U.S. Department of State, potential land developers, US non-profit organizations, and to the Government of Cuba if and when such Government is democratically elected.”

Now, if you were Cuban and you saw a foreigner taking pictures of your house, how would you feel about this “public service?” And what would you do?

At least the FIU site doesn’t talk about evictions – that task fell to the U.S. government.

When the Bush Administration’s Cuba commission issued its monumental election-year report in 2004 (general discussion here), it covered the issue of residential property. You can read it yourself here. The residential property section includes the “if requested by a transition Cuban government” disclaimers. But it sums up as follows:

  • While Cubans may think they have title to their property, those titles are in doubt and need to be certified by a commission that the U.S. government will help Cuba to establish.

  • The commission may determine that current occupants of homes – now called “tenants” – might have to pay “rent” until they are evicted: “If the [commission] finds that the property is occupied as a home, then the claimant should be unable to evict the tenants and take possession of the property for a specified period of time.”

Can anyone imagine a single step that the U.S. government could take that would be more of an impediment to change in Cuba?

This blunder was not lost on the Administration’s current Latin America team. All recent statements on Cuba policy – including spots on Radio Marti featuring the Secretary of Commerce – are saturated with assurances that the United States offers advice, not dictates, to the Cuban people. The July 2007 “Compact with the People of Cuba” explicitly says that the United States respects “the right of the Cuban people to be secure in their homes.”

My hunch is that these assurances are reinforcing fears rather than dispelling them. It would be far better if the Administration would flatly disavow its 2004 commission report, in whole or in part. But governments rarely do that, and in this case maybe we are seeing an excess of deference to the commission’s chairs, Secretary of State Powell and Senator Mel Martinez.

There are a few lessons here.

Cubans are not dumb.

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

And when it comes to Cuba policy, the so-called hard-liners can be Fidel’s best friends.


Anonymous said...

Good points, all. Let's hope amateur hour really is over.

Anonymous said...

El tema de las casas es punto clave para los cubanos de la isla. Tema muy profundo, controversial aqui en Miami y definitivamente un punto en contra del cambio.

Otro tema candente, es la posibilidad que los cubanos americanos inviertan en la isla, y que "los que se quedaron en Cuba" tengan desventajas sobre estos que se fueron. Los cubanos de alla temen que los cubanos de aqui los saquen del juego en su propia tierra.

Anonymous said...

nice comments, the thought about the cubans (en la isla) being more scared of miami cubans than the beard is spot on from my experience.

Rational or irrational, brain-washed or not, ordinary Cubans on the island are more hostile toward el exilo than the beard. I mean this is an empirical fact, not some political statement. THIS sentiment against Miami goes a long way in explaining why there has been NO change on the island for so many years, even though the conditions are so bad.

As the Cuban Triangle poignantly aruges in another post: many times the best friend of Castro brothers are the hard-liners in Miami themseleves..
The reason the hard-liners fail to see this connection, I believe, is b/c most of them have never been back to Cuba since they left. In other words, they speak for Miami, not for Cuba.

I challenge any of the hard liners to go to cuba and talk to ordinary Cubans - we'll pay. Knowing real Cubans (la masa) is the only way that US policy will change toward Cuba. Its obvious, for example, that many of the most vocal anti-fidel bloggers (e.g. cuban-american pundits, babalu) have never been to Cuba (or a long time ago). As a result, those who have visited the island in past years and have good cuban friends livin' on the island 'know' more than them - the supposed cuban freedom fighters.

CUBA ED said...

Miami attorney Nick Gutierrez claims he has some 350 clients ready to file property claims. This is an issue that is sure to continue bedeviling US-Cuban relations, even after Fidel has gone to meet Lenin.

leftside said...

And lets not forget Helms-Burton, which deals with the big money non-residential propertiesm, ie. large factories and beachfront real estate. It says there can be no normalization until these claims are addressed. Cuba says fine that it is willing to negotiate with US companies but argues the US has no jurisdiction under international law to make the claims itself.