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Letter from the Editor

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JPRT 1-1 CoverDear Readers,

Welcome to the first issue of the Journal of Property Rights in Transition. We decided to launch our project with a focus on Cuba, largely because Cuba is an excellent case study of the pathology we have set out to explore and remedy. There is still neither regime change nor earnest economic and political reforms. Mistakenly, Cuba is often defined either through the prisms of Latin American and “Latino” Studies or human rights activism. Yet, every aspect of Cuba for over half a century ought to be defined through the paradigm of Communism. Property rights, exiles, dissidents, foreign investment and trade can only be properly understood with knowledge of Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism.

The Cuban regime has refined and perfected the mechanisms created by the early Soviets to hold on to power. To be sure, the regime feels threatened by potential claims on confiscated property. De-communization requires the return of property to rightful owners – the most important step towards restoring individual liberty. Our contributors to this issue address approaches to unresolved claims, offer lessons from the past and warn about the present.

Shanker A. Singham and Nathan C. Santamaría write about restitution as a matter of justice and truth. They guide the reader through legal and philosophical defenses of property rights and restitution, international trade agreements, models of post-Communist restitution and the U.S. Cuban claims program. Singham and Santamaría describe the special treatment that ought to be assigned to looted artworks and other heritage pieces. Of particular note are the Sothebys’s guidelines for dealing with artworks from the Gómez-Mena collection that may serve as a template for other works looted from Cuba.

Latin American leaders who emulated Fidel Castro have reaped the results of Communist policies. As of this publication, recently deceased Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez has left the country in a state of class and racial warfare with a crumbling economy and widespread shortages that have resulted in rationing. Newly installed president Nicolás Maduro, after a hotly contested election, seems unequipped to handle the mess he inherited. Alberto M. Piedra warns that although Castro served as an inspiration to other leftists around the world, today’s Latin American leaders no longer need his variety of violence or military coups to quash private property or any other rights – they can simply alter the constitution.

Nathan C. Santamaría, in his second article for this issue, creates a privatization and restitution scheme for agricultural lands in Cuba guided by the dynamic analytics of property and Hernando de Soto’s titling scheme. Santamaría proposes that titles to land be distributed among claimants and those who live on and work the land by temporary regional legislative bodies. Significantly, he posits that U.S. claims on land ought to be resolved by diplomatic and foreign policy measures. Although noting the potential risks in mass privatization, his land reform model endeavors to promote greater productivity as well as economic and legal freedoms for Cubans.

Eric N. Baklanoff revisits the effects of Portugal’s short-lived Marxist regime to offer lessons for a future Cuba. In Portugal, the demonized industrial and landowning families lost greatly to nationalization policies. But the country lost even more when the most productive sector departed for exile. Probably to the chagrin of the Marxists and other leftists, exiles found great success abroad. After the end of the regime that nationalized their properties exiles returned to even more success in the homeland indicating that merit and talent outweighed the frequent accusation of success by virtue of birth.

Lastly, I take us back almost one century ago to the Bolshevik takeover of Russia. The similarities to today’s Cuba in policy, rhetoric and Western behavior are striking. After the Bolsheviks murdered millions of Russians and took over every last drop of property for themselves, Vladimir Lenin dialectically enacted the New Economic Policy (NEP) creating the impression (with the help of the dreaded Soviet secret police) that Communism was on its way out and that foreign investment and trade would open the path to a more liberal and capitalistic regime. Reliably, journalists, businessmen, socialites and “scholars” readily promoted Lenin’s myth – some unwittingly, others voluntarily. Some exiles returned to participate in the state capitalism lured by the imminent end of the regime, and of course, by potential profits. The calculated end of the NEP ushered in arrests and executions of its architects and the confiscation of domestic and foreign investments. The funds generated by the alleged opening in Russia only served to strengthen the revolution, exactly as Lenin intended. If anything is to be learned by Cuba watchers it is buyer beware. It ought never be forgotten that Communists are guided by the motto of Sergei Nechayev – the ends justify the means.

Best wishes,

Tania C. Mastrapa, Ph.D.




On the cover:
Cuban Standard Bearer
Frederick Coffay Yohn (1875-1933)
Oil on canvas







Posted in: This Issue
Tania C. Mastrapa

About the Author:

Tania C. Mastrapa is a Research Professor at The Institute of World Politics (IWP) in Washington, D.C. She is the founder of Mastrapa Consultants, a firm specializing in claims on property confiscated by the current Cuban regime. She also advises prospective foreign investors in Cuba to avoid trafficking in confiscated property. Dr. Mastrapa speaks frequently throughout North America and Europe on property restitution and privatization and has published extensively on post-Communist property reform, looted artworks, transitional justice and exile studies. She previously served as the Vice President of Cuban Cultural Heritage (CCH) and as Secretary of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE). Dr. Mastrapa is a contributor to the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research (SFPPR) and writes the blog No Trespassing for the Journal of Property Rights in Transition for which she is also the Editor-in-Chief. Dr. Mastrapa was educated at Boston College, Carroll School of Management (B.S.), Tufts University, The Fletcher School (M.A.L.D.), and University of Miami, Graduate School of International Studies (Ph.D.).

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