Private property rights is about control. Either you control or the government controls. Throughout Latin America, Africa, and other regions of the world governments have been waging a war against private property. And, as in Venezuela recently, some people are willing to die defending their land from illegal confiscation. The U.S. and Cuba have an outstanding matter in this regard that needs attention and needs it soon.
Under U.S. law, Cuba knows if it wants good relations with us, one of the many things it must do is effectively deal with a very expensive skeleton from its past. The billions of dollars worth of compensation of expropriated property owners is one of the unspoken, yet more pressing issues that must be dealt with before the United States normalizes relations with Cuba. If the process is not undertaken, or done in haste or incorrectly, Cuba’s transition to a free-market economy will take a great deal longer than necessary and, in the meantime, create political headaches for us.
Throughout Latin America there is a quiet revolution taking place where democratically “elected” governments are waging a war on these bundles of rights. They learned from the masters of theft, Fidel and Raul Castro, as well as Cuban Communist Party officials, many of whom remain in power to this day. People died in Cuba defending their land, and people are dying in other places today doing the same. Take the case of Franklin Brito in Venezuela.
Brito died recently. A farmer, he was on a hunger strike protesting a Venezuelan land redistribution scheme that stole property from bonafide owners and gave it away at no cost to other people. Brito and many other Venezuelans were paid nothing for the taking (kind of what the City of New London did that gave rise to Kelo v. City of New London just not as a refined use of the laws or processes). With the stroke of a pen the Hugo Chavez machine has nullified thousands of land titles, making them valueless. Now someone has died because of it.
How the United States and Cuba find closure to the multi-billion dollar property question will set the tone for such matters in the future. It will be important not only for a peaceful and orderly transition in Cuba, but should send a message to governments in the region and around the world: if you tinker with private property, sooner or later there will be a price to pay.
Read more about the Franklin Brito case in Venezuela, here.