Because spatial imbalance and widespread poverty affected both urban and rural areas, the new revolutionary government acted quickly to introduce corrective policy.
A number of specific measures including the First Law of Agrarian Reform, the Second Law of Agrarian Reform, and various bills dealing with Cuba’s housing emergency were designed to redistribute income, eliminate rural-urban inequities, and address the ‘urban crisis.’
Along with the urban measures designed above, property owned by batistianos was confiscated, their safe deposits seized, and their bank accounts frozen. Property owned by all past government officials, senior army officers, mayors, and governors, and members of both houses of Congress during 1954-1958 was seized.
These urban reforms spurred a first wave of Cubans to flee Havana for the United States. Many of those leaving the city at this time were professionals, managers, and executives. There was also an over representation of domestic service occupations, indicating that “many wealthy families left as complete households, bring their servants with them.”
In addition, there was a major outflow of military and police.
This group of migrants was older and more educated than groups that were to emigrate later and, not surprisingly, the group was made up of those individuals who had been least favorable to the revolution and, conversely, fairly supportive of Batista.
Obviously, most of them had not been participants in the revolution.
However, it is interesting to note that even though many of these first exiles had lost jobs, possessions, or other sources of income (rental income for example), few cited economic conditions as their reason for leaving.
In actuality, loss of income during this period did not always mean loss of purchasing power or a declining standard of living. Analyses indicate that
. . . as a result of the reduction of urban rents and provisions for free education and medical care, many salaried people found themselves just as well-off economically in the early 1960’s as they had been under Batista . . . . But even among the minority that was ‘wiped out’ by the revolution, financial losses were perceived as only one facet of an upheaval that divested them of power, privilege, and all the perquisites of high social standing . . . . they see themselves as refugees from everything the revolution stands for. They are in Cuban slang, class siquitrillados . . . .
[A siquitrillado is defined as “one who had a broken backbone.” This colloquial expression emerged into general use in 1959 from the argot of cock-fighting to designate a person, specifically a non-bastistiano, whose interests had been damaged by the social measures adopted by the revolution.]
As the exiles flowed out of Havana, thousand of Cubans from the countryside poured into the capital city seeking opportunity. Vacated housing along the Malecon in Central Havana, in Vedado, and in Miramar was made affordable to increasing numbers of migrants from other areas of the island.
Homes in elegant neighborhoods (especially in Miramar) were converted into schools and dormitories for thousands of children on scholarships.
Private beaches and exclusive clubs were opened to the public.
The new conditions provided openings that cut across ties of class and race, arousing tremendous enthusiasm for the revolution and provoking a powerful surge of nationalism.
The Afro-Cubans who had been at the lowest end of the socioeconomic scale prior to the revolution became immediate beneficiaries. In fact, early on, the Cuban Revolution officially ruled out all forms of racial discrimination.
As wealth and social gains were redistributed, both poor blacks and mulattoes benefited.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe.