- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

Cuba's maximum leader may be a tyrant, but he's no dummy. He may understand the connection between freedom and private property a lot better than the free, many of whom have never quite made the connection between liberty and property.

See the current debate in this country over whether workers should be able to control even part of their own Social Security funds. The argument isn't just about the future or stability of the Social Security system; it's about how widely ownership should be shared in a free country.

A lot of politicians are scared silly by the prospect of a nation of investors, for then the politicians would no longer be able to pretend that they're the ones responsible for those Social Security checks.

Fidel Castro understands the connection between economic and political freedom, all right. Look at what happened when a group of brave Cubans began circulating a petition demanding some basic political rights, like freedom of speech and association:

El Lider reacted by proposing a constitutional amendment of his own, which of course was immediately enacted. For his wish is law. But his counteramendment didn't denounce political rights. It outlawed capitalism. Instinctively, Fidel understood that the opposite of tyranny is control of one's own capital.

Let a people begin to control the fruit of their own labor, and political power may follow. It's a lesson as old as Booker T. Washington, which is why he insisted that self-reliance was the first step to full citizenship for this country's newly freed slaves.

Cuba's slavemaster doesn't mind paying lip service to purely political reforms. Elections, for example. He can always rig them. The old Soviet constitution was full of freedoms, too on paper.

What a communist dictator truly fears is the economic power of a restive people. Give 'em an inch and soon they'll be determining their own destiny.

Property, like knowledge, is power. And in a communist state, all power is the monopoly of the party. Any dictator worth his whip is going to insist on keeping the economy under his control.

Fidel Castro didn't have to read Locke to grasp that freedom is a right not only to life and liberty but to one's property. That's because he has a tyrant's appreciation of the roots of power. He cannot allow capitalism to take root if he intends to keep Cuba under his heel.

One may despise Fidel's dictatorship yet admire his understanding that property and liberty go together. If only that understanding were more widespread in the free world .

There was a time when it was. John Locke understood that the rights to life, liberty and property are inseparably connected.

So did James Madison, who was the father of the American Constitution if any single statesman was. "In a just and free government," he wrote, "the rights both of property and of persons ought to be effectually guarded."

"That alone is a just government," he reasoned, "which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own." The Constitution, Madison maintained, was meant to prevent "arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest." Which is the very basis of Fidel Castro's sordid little dictatorship.

When pressed to grant political rights, Cuba's dictator responds by promising instead a right to others' property, to the fruit of others' labor or enterprise. In short, he promises just the kind of arbitrary seizures Madison warned against. To keep his subjects in thrall, he calls liberty a bad name capitalism and promises to save them from it forever. The way the master of a plantation might reassure his slaves.

Fidel's controlled press, his not-so-spontaneous rallies, his speeches for posterity that seem to go on until it arrives none of his increasingly desperate tactics can disguise his slipping hold on Cuba.

The natives grow restless. And for good reason. They have been deprived of their liberty in exchange for the promise of material gains, and been denied both.

To quote the University of Miami's Jerry Haar on the prosperity Fidel has brought his subjects: "In a country where unemployment and underemployment taken together exceed 50 percent, the average GDP per capita is a mere $1,500, less than every other Western hemisphere nation except Haiti." This in Cuba, once the most thriving island in the Caribbean.

But let this much be said of the superannuated tyrant who has stolen his country's freedom, and, with it, half a century of its economic growth. He knows the future of freedom depends on people controlling their own property, rather than having government distribute it. It is an understanding that was once common in this country, but has grown all to rare.

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