As a Cuban American, I’m sometimes asked what the Cuban Revolution was like. My answer is that it took place so fast, people didn’t know it happened until it was over.
No one would argue that Cuba and its citizens enjoyed the same level of freedom as Americans historically have had. Yet even though many of Cuba’s “democratically elected” presidents ended up grabbing power and few left office after their “constitutional” terms expired, Cubans still enjoyed a certain level of freedom and economic benefits. Somehow, though, the country went from an open, more or less democratic country to a one-party dictatorship in the space of just a few years.
The nationalization of all industry started right away, and companies like Hershey, GE and Ford that had plants in Cuba and provided for excellent paying jobs for Cuban workers, were quickly pushed out. These policies killed the free markets. In 1958, 62 percent of sugar mills — the most important component of the Cuban economy — were owned by Cubans. Then came more and more regulations. After just a few years, the entire industry was nationalized. The Revolution dismantled an industry that for centuries had maintained the economy of the country.
What I suspect, though, is that what happened quickly in Cuba can happen much more slowly — but decisively — in the United States.
The constant war on the “1 percent”; the growing regulations on banks, large and small businesses, and oil and logging industries; more and more state agencies doing what the private sector used to do; the way allegedly “private” industries rely more and more on federal money; the regular demands for raising the minimum wage; the special treatments unions receive — I feel I’m seeing in slow-motion what once happened very quickly.
The deja vu becomes more pronounced every day. It’s frightening how so many Americans, even politically active South Carolinians, don’t understand that it’s more than a matter of who is the president or who holds majorities on Capitol Hill. This is about how as Americans we no longer understand self-governance, because for decades we relinquished our duties as citizens to those we elected, and failed to keep watchful eyes on what they did. We assumed they were doing what we elected them to do. And when we discover we were mistaken in our assumptions, we yell, scream, point fingers and try to stop what’s already happened. This isn’t what the Founding Fathers meant by self-governance.
What we need more than anything right now is to remember that the slow slide toward governmental domination isn’t less real because it’s slow.
Magda Aguila came to the United States when she was 13. She is a business owner in Greenville.